Published: June 24, 2003
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. and BROOKLINE, MASS. – Bonhams & Butterfields conducted two very successful auctions recently on the East and West coasts.
Eighteenth Century Needlework Brings $611,250 in San Francisco
A large and impressive needlework chimneypiece created to hang above a fireplace in a proper Boston home sold after highly competitive bidding on Monday June 23, at Bonhams & Butterfields for $611,250.
The four-foot wide needlework featured an extensive landscape with flowering trees, rolling hills and various houses and animals in the background and workers in the foreground.
The needlework, one of more than 550-lots offered to collectors, dealers, interior decorators and designers during a sale of European and American Furniture and Decorative Arts, had been included in a book on girlhood needlework as well as a 1941 magazine article on embroideries. It is considered unique due to its depiction of an African American as a central figure in the work.
Contemporary research is inconclusive as to the makers, but scholarly opinion leans toward students of a noted Boston-based instructor Susanna Hiller Condy whose drawings and patterns for needleworks were seen advertised as early as 1742. The needlework was estimated at $20/30,000 with the lot selling to Stephen and Carol Huber, of Old Saybrook, Conn. According to the successful bidders, this example is one of only eight known similar embroideries, the other examples are within museum collections.
Auction Action in Brookline, Mass.
On May 3 and 5 the firm conducted a pair of interesting and sales at the Museum of Transportation. The firm’s motorcar department conducted Saturday’s sale, and the decorative arts department ran the Monday auction. Total sales nudged $4.8 million.
For the California-based Butterfields, this was its first foray into Massachusetts in two decades. EBay sold Butterfields to Bonhams last fall. Vice president and decorative arts specialist Brooke Sivo headed the Bonhams & Butterfields staff presenting the decorative arts auction. The preview was conducted on two floors of the museum building, and the auction was under the same tent used earlier for the car auction.
Many seasoned auctiongoers were highly impressed with the auctioning style of Malcolm Barber, chief executive officer of Bonhams & Butterfields. Previous to joining Bonhams, Barber ran the motorcar department at Sotheby’s. After the car auction, Barber said, “That was a personal record for me. The previous record had been six hours and 45 minutes; today was seven hours, 15 minutes.” Two days later Barber was back at the block where he called half of the decorative arts auction.
Mrs Donald Schoeny, a Massachusetts collector, commented, “Malcolm is a great auctioneer. He is dynamic, witty and very entertaining. He is genuinely excited to be doing this and he has a great sense of theater. You can see that he really knows his buyers, and the buyers really like him.”
The firm’s chairman, Laura Pfaff, also worked enthusiastically. At one moment she was handling logistical matters and in the next she was phone bidding. She and Barber also entertained the audience with clever exchanges of quips about her yachting interests.
The estate of Edwin “Ted” Jameson, Jr, of Sharon, Conn., consigned all the decorative arts rdf_Descriptions and more than half the transportation rdf_Descriptions. Barber commented, “It was great pleasure having meet Ted in 1980, and him having followed the auctions since then until literally one year ago. It was a pleasure and privilege to officiate at the sale for him — a landmark sale.”
Decorative Arts Auction
The decorative arts auction proceeded at a steady pace, ranging from 80 to 100 lots per hour. In addition to Barber, auctioneers were Sivo and Patrick Meade, another vice president. In the decorative arts auction 772 lots sold for a total of $1,288,304.
This map also had great significance for flag collectors. At the bottom of this map was a cartouche whose border was decorated with patriotic symbols. Rising from the right hand side of the cartouche is “Stars and Stripes” – the first known depiction of that icon. The lot was ideally suited to Reese’s business that specializes in Colonial and Federal Americana on paper as well as Seventeenth to early Twentieth Century literature.
Reese also won a two-volume set of History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark To the Sources of the Missouri, Thence Across the Rocky Mountains and Down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. Performed During the Years 1804-5-6. For the ultimate work on American exploration, travel and adventure, Reese paid $56,400.
Reese’s third major acquisition related to his interest in literature. It was a pen and watercolor illustration titled “Wandering Trees” created by the English artist Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). In very good condition, the clever, fanciful work portrays trees as human beings engaged in such daily activities as tying shoes.
The top furniture lot was a library chair that was cataloged as George III but rumored to be a Thomas Affleck chair. Estimated at $1,5/2,000, it sold to a phone bidder for $72,550.
Another exceptional American lot was a Lancaster, Mass., sampler estimated at $5/7,000, but which sold for $45,825. Samplers from this academy are particularly robust and rare. While the center medallion demonstrated fine, restrained work common on samplers, its wide border with large, flourishing blossoms and vines were far more dynamic than common schoolgirl works. In addition, the sampler was very well preserved.
Bidding in the motorcar auction was consistently competitive and established three new world records. In the first section of the sale, transportation parts, accessories and memorabilia were offered. The pace was about 120 lots per hour. Vehicles were sold in the second stage at a gradual pace, reflecting the money involved. While bidding on individual lots often extended to five minutes, Barber deftly managed the drama of the situation to maintain excrdf_Descriptionent. Sales totaled $3,501,097 with 469 lots selling.
A surprising top lot in the auction was a 1913 75-horsepower Simplex needing extensive restoration. It was previewed in the restoration tent where one dealer estimated that it would cost $750,000 to restore. There are, however, only three extant cars of this model. Estimated at $65/80,000, the vehicle drew widespread bidding. Eventually it went to a New England collector for $335,000. Hopefully, it will someday join the collection of a New England museum. The selling price was a world auction record for an unrestored Simplex.
After its manufacture in Manchester, N.H., the engine served the Hartford (Conn.) Fire Department. Eventually, opera singer James Melton added it to his collection and later it passed to Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. Around 1970 it entered the Jameson collection. Estimated at $100/150,000, it sold to a phone bidder.
The third world record was established when a 1905 White type-D canopy-top touring car sold for $138,000, against an estimate of $70/100,000. The car was in superb condition with every detail appearing mint-quality. Although less well remembered than the Stanley Steamer, in the period White was the most widely owned steam-powered car. The first car driven by a presiding pres-ident was a White driven by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
The auction’s Museum of Transportation venue is soon to be renamed the Lars Anderson Museum. Lars and Isabel Anderson were pioneering automobile enthusiasts. Their collection is exhibited in a carriage house designed by architect Edmund Wheelwright based on the Chateau-de-Chaumont in France. The museum is on the grounds of the 65-acre Lars Anderson Park operated by the city of Boston.
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