CINCINNATI, OHIO — The market for the sand bottles of Andrew Clemens has been hot for a few years but Hindman Auctions really turned up the heat when it offered the only known portrait sand bottle in its American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts auction, September 30-October 1. Estimated at $100/150,000, the bottle attracted competition from bidders on the phone, as well as in the room and absentee, ultimately selling for $956,000 to a private collector bidding on the phone.
“There are only a handful of bidders for this high-level of Andrew Clemens’ sand bottles,” said Ben Fisher, Hindman’s director of Americana. “They were all eagerly bidding on this exceptional example of Clemens’ work. It’s unlikely that we will ever see a portrait bottle again. This sort of thing – portraiture – was atypical for Clemens.”
Of the more than 100 documented bottles made by Andrew Clemens (American, 1857-1894), this bottle is the only one to depict a portrait: that of Orrin T. Fuller (American, 1859-1929) of Savanna, Ill., as a young boy of four or five years of age. Fuller’s portrait is executed so photographically precise that it is presumed to have been modeled from a carte-de-visite. The 8¾ inch tall bottle lacks a label that usually accompanies bottles made by Clemens but features a composition and geographic flourishes typically associated with his hand.
Like most bottles made by Clemens, it had remained with its original family, passing first to Fuller’s son, Orrin Ashby Fuller (1879-1977), then to his granddaughter, Ora Lee Wiseman. She provided Hindman with a file of family documentation that included reminiscences, newspaper clippings, two photographs of Fuller and several copies of articles regarding Fuller’s sister, Angeline, or “Angie” as she was known (1841-1925).
Most of the bottles Clemens made were specially commissioned; the circumstances surrounding why this bottle was made are less clear, but the auction catalog outlines a probable explanation. Angie was stricken with typhoid fever and whooping cough at 13 years old that left her completely deaf and nearly blind. After a two-year enrollment at the Illinois Institute of the Deaf and Dumb in Jacksonville, she returned to live with her family in Savanna. Upon her return home, Angie, who had developed a talent for writing while at school, began writing articles for The Deaf-Mute’s Journal, fund-raising and advocating for the rights of deaf women. By 1880 – still living at home with her parents and brother O.T. — she had become a national figure.
Fuller’s prominence within the national deaf community probably made her aware of Clemens, who was himself a deaf-mute living about 80 miles from Savanna; his bottles were well known throughout the upper Mississippi Valley. It is possible that Angie commissioned the bottle as a parting gift before she married and left home in 1887.
O.T. himself had a somewhat itinerant adult life, appearing variously in the Federal Census records between 1870 and 1920 as a student, grocer’s salesman, restauranteur, hotel manager and accountant in Savanna, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Wiseman remembers sitting in the coat closet of the Fuller home playing with the bottle when she was a young girl: “It amazes me that the bottle survived over 100 years being handled by many people – Including children! I always thought the boy looked like my dad…Yet I have known very little about him.”
A more extensive sale recap will appear in a future issue.