Published: June 22, 2021
Review by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy William Smith Inc
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – Bill Smith’s June 12 sale was “live” under two large tents. Smith was one of the staunch holdouts in rejecting internet bidding, but the pandemic converted him. In the not-so-distant past, without internet bidding, his audience could be 300-400 strong and the prices were just as robust. With internet bidding, the crowd was smaller but the prices remained strong. As always, regional furniture and paintings did well. Other American furniture turned in results with some surprises in both directions. Prices of rare watches and jewelry were solid, leading the sale, with some exceeding the high estimates. Four of five vintage automobiles exceeded estimates. Several Asian lots sold well over estimates, as did multiple other items. Smith’s online descriptions include multiple photographs and concise condition statements. It all worked out to another strong sale with a gross of $1.4 million and 24 items selling for over $10,000.
Fine jewelry and fine watches brought the top prices of the day. Interestingly, two of the dealers, who were strong jewelry buyers in the days before Smith started using internet bidding, said that they were now finding it increasingly difficult to buy. “Now we’re competing with buyers, many of whom are the end buyers, all over the country,” one remarked. Having said that, several jewelry lots sold to buyers in the room. The top lot of the jewelry selection, and the day, was an 8-carat VVS round brilliant cut yellow diamond, set in an 18K gold size 10 men’s ring, which sold for $70,800, well over the estimate. As he was selling this ring, Smith said that the ring had not been sent out for certification because the consignor did not want to pay the cost. He said that if the buyer, at their cost, had the stone examined and it was not as stated, it could be returned within 30 days. From the same collection, an 18K gold men’s ring with a 6.5-carat round brilliant cut diamond, cataloged as L-M or very light yellow-SI1, brought $38,350, just below the high estimate. Selling substantially over the estimate was a lady’s platinum and diamond ring with a 3.3-carat old European cut diamond, K-VS (with small chips on girdle), set with six smaller marquise cut diamonds. It realized $26,550.
Finishing at $56,050, the watches were topped by an Audemars Piguet Grande Complication pocket watch set in a 50mm 18K gold case. The watch had a perpetual calendar, a minute repeating split-seconds chronograph, along with moon phases and leap-year indicators. Parts of the movement functioned properly while others needed adjustments. A self-winding Patek Philippe perpetual calendar watch in a 36mm platinum case sold for $41,300. Functions included hours, minutes, seconds, day, date, month, perpetual calendar and moon phase.
Unexpectedly, of the wide selection of American furniture, the highest price was paid for a birch, one-drawer Shaker stand with remnants of an old red stain, bottle legs and a single turned stretcher. Its highest estimate was $800; its selling price was $26,550, with phone and internet bidders competing. Bill Smith was as surprised as the audience. As bidding progressed, Smith asked his staff members taking the bids to be sure the bidders knew what they were bidding on. “It’s just a small table,” he said, but the bidding continued and it sold to an internet bidder. It’s part of what makes attending auctions endlessly fascinating. Bidders knew what they wanted when choosing their favorite pieces of furniture but good buys, demonstrating today’s market, abounded. One might have expected that a well-documented Connecticut Chippendale three-piece secretary desk would exceed its reasonable estimate and top the category, but such was not the case. The circa 1795-1805 piece was made by Silas Rice, Wallingford, Conn., and is documented in Connecticut Valley Furniture by Lionetti and Kugelman. The finish was described as “likely original crusty” and the brasses were described as “mostly old.” It had a carved, arched pediment, turned and fluted quarter columns and well-carved ball and claw feet. Its cartouche was a replacement, as described in the book. Smith’s catalog stated that they had sold the secretary in September 2001, for $100,000. This time it sold for $16,520, well below estimate. Also below estimates were a refinished cherry Eighteenth Century Connecticut fan carved lowboy that reached $1,652 and a 12-light glass door cherry Pennsylvania corner cupboard, which went out for $1,416. Smith stated that the consignor had paid $12,000 for it.
The story was different for the pieces of New Hampshire furniture, as many results exceeded estimates. A five-drawer Chippendale tiger maple tall chest made by David Young, with an older refinish and replaced brasses, realized $5,900. Young worked in the Concord and Hopkinton areas. A circa 1820 Federal chest with four drawers, attributed to Joshua Emory, Loudon, N.H., finished at $2,832. The chest, with mahogany drawer fronts, tiger banding and original hardware, stood on tall spiked feet. A simple grain-painted New Hampshire card table with a hinged, fold-over top, on tapered legs, earned $4,130, more than three times its estimate. A circa 1810 country New Hampshire cherry four-drawer chest, with a simple drop panel, earned $2,006, also above estimate, and a tiger maple New Hampshire Chippendale bowfront chest with four drawers, on an ogee bracket base, went out for $2,950, nearly twice the estimate. It may have been made by Jonathan Ross of Gilmanton, N.H. There were other New Hampshire and Massachusetts pieces.
The day also saw “Grandma Moses Goes to The Country,” signed and dated 1944 painting, sell for $59,000, the second highest price of the day. The sale included works by other members of her family. A winter scene, very much in the Grandma Moses style, by her daughter Winona Moses Fisher (1888-1958), reached $2,360. Her nephew, Wilfred Robertson (1898-1985), was an author and painter. One of his books, A Back Country Tale, included his illustrations. The 17 original acrylic paintings he did for the book, painted between 1960 and 1970, were sold in one lot, along with a typed copy of the manuscript, for $590.
Other paintings, including a White Mountains scene by Harrison Bird Brown, performed well. “Crossing The Saco,” by Brown (1831-1915), was a landscape showing a team of oxen pulling a loaded hay wagon with a family seated on top. With the White Mountains in the background, it earned $32,450, a record for the artist. A watercolor painting of a winter scene showing a man shoveling snow with a farmhouse and barns in the background, by Paul Sample (1896-1974), realized $14,160. An oil on canvas of a Venetian canal scene by French painter Felix Ziem (1821-1911) brought $22,420. There were a number of late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Century paintings, including some by Kim Douglas Wiggins (b 1958). One of her watercolors, dated 2002, “The Steeples of Santa,” brought $5,900 and others by her finished for just a little less.
During the sale, Smith had commented that his father’s first sale, 60 years ago, had grossed $700 – and he was very pleased with that number. Times change and this sale grossed $1.4 million. A few days after, while discussing the results, Bill Smith said, “It was about what we expected. We had a good selection of jewelry and the results showed that. Same with the paintings. We did well with the KPM plaques (there were about a dozen) and the Asian items did well. The internet has changed our business; there are certainly fewer in-person buyers than there used to be. But there are still plenty of good buys across the board and there always will be. It’s good to see the longtime buyers back in person.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium. For additional information, call 603-675-2549 or www.wsmithauction.com.
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