Published: September 4, 2012
Bidders came prepared to buy and buy they did at Northeast Auctions’ marine and China Trade sale August 18‱9 that saw several record breakers and realized more than $4 million. Prices showed strength across the board, and seats were filled beneath the tent behind the Treadwell Mansion. Auctioneer Ron Bourgeault described it perfectly as “that old-time under the tent magic.”
A whale’s tooth by the Pagoda/Albatross artist became the most expensive piece of scrimshaw sold at auction when it realized $324,000 from a private buyer. Speaking as he hammered it down, auctioneer Ron Bourgeault said it was probably the best example ever sold. He should know, he has sold it twice now †each time for a record amount. The last time out was at Bourgeault’s August 2005 marine sale when it realized a record $303,000 from Stephen O’Brien Jr, buying for a collector. The tooth was engraved with a ship under reduced sails, four whaleboats harpooning five whales and four albatross circling overhead. This time out it went to a serious scrimshaw collector bidding in the tent. Bourgeault reported that Stuart M. Frank described the tooth as the most important scrimshaw tooth he had seen.
Another tooth, one engraved by William Lewis Roderick with a sperm whaling scene, sold for $44,840. Roderick was a Welsh ship’s surgeon on three South Sea Company voyages between 1847 and 1856. A whale’s tooth with a portrait of a theatrically garbed couple is attributed to the banknote engraver and fetched $135,930.
A pair of oil on canvas portraits by China Trade artist Spoilum, circa 1802, of Captain James Cary of Nantucket and Cantonese hong merchant Chung Qua brought a record $401,000. The successful phone buyer was collector J. Welles Henderson, III, whose father’s marine arts collection sold at Northeast Auctions in 2008, and the portraits will serve as the lynchpin of his own marine collection.
Cary made his first voyage to China aboard the Rose in 1801 at the age of 24 and became friends with Chung Qua, exchanging visits to Nantucket and China down the years. The pictures retain the original strainers, glass and frames and are two of seven Spoilum works brought to Nantucket between 1802 and 1807. They descended from Cary who, according to family lore, commissioned his own likeness as a gift to his trading partner in Canton, who in turn commissioned another of himself for Cary.
Chinese Export porcelain that Cary brought from the Orient included a pair of foo dog joss stick holders with the initials “BC,” for Cary’s wife Betsey, which realized $14,160. The pair was accompanied by a 15½-inch covered urn decorated with garlands in blue and gold. A covered porcelain cider jug commissioned by Cary for his parents, Edward and Lydia Hussey Cary, with the initials “ELC” for Edward and Lydia Cary, was decorated with the image of the family ropewalk on one side and an image of a farmhouse and barn with animals. It took $49,560.
A China Trade silver cruet stand, circa 1804, with seven cut glass bottles made by Cumshing, among the earliest known Canton export silversmiths, retained his mark and was engraved with the Cary initials. The set brought $21,240.
Bidding on a majestic figurehead carved for the Schuerbeck , the four-masted bark built in 1902 by J. Reid & Co., of Glasgow for Knöhr & Burchard of Hamburg, Germany, opened at $45,000. It never let up until the 103-inch figure of a young woman, holding her right hand to her bosom, sold to a collector for $165,200. The underbidder was an agent for a Chinese buyer. The figure was said to have been modeled after Erna Grohmann, a daughter of Heinrich Grohmann, partner in a German sailmaking company.
The Schuerbeck made several passages between Europe and California, then sat out World War I in Mexico and was awarded to Italy according to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. It was subsequently sold to Robert Dollar, a San Francisco shipping merchant who renamed the vessel Joseph Dollar . The figure entered the collection of the M.H. DeYoung Memorial Museum in San Francisco around 1920 and remained there until 2000.
A carved cathead terminal with parcel gilt interested bidders who drove it past the estimated $2/4,000 to $8,850. Other marine carvings were equally well received: a Nineteenth Century half-length figurehead of Admiral Collingwood, hero of Trafalgar, realized $16,520. Francis Thurber Meyer donated the figure to the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 1926. A carved ship’s figurehead of a Native American in a feathered headdress from about 1835 came from an unidentified ship and was purchased in London by a merchant engaged in the silk trade there and descended in the family. It sold on the phone for $15,340. A carved armorial shield said to have been removed from a passenger boat on the Potomac River went out at $4,484.
Eight phones and a number of bidders in the tent jumped on a Chinese Export porcelain nesting goose-form soup tureen and cover from about 1760‸0 that went to one of them for $123,900, underbid by a well-known Boston porcelain dealer. It included Michigan dealer Jess Pavey in its provenance. The tureen sold previously at Northeast for $93,600 in the 2009 marine arts sale.
Seven phones pursued two historic documents related to John Langdon of Portsmouth, a Revolutionary War captain, a signer of the Constitution, ship builder, three-term governor of New Hampshire and across-the-street neighbor to Treadwell Mansion, that galvanized the phones. A number of Langdon documents also commanded strong prices in Bourgeault’s May sale. A letter to Langdon from Samuel Adams, Massachusetts, signer of the Declaration of Independence and delegate to the Second Continental Congress, dated August 7, 1777, sold in this recent sale for $67,260. The letter discussed military matters, British troop movements near Philadelphia, the defeat at Ticonderoga and other events.
A letter from John Paul Jones, commander of the sloop-of-war Ranger , dated October 31, 1777, chastised Langdon for delays in outfitting and provisioning the ship built in Langdon’s yards. Jones, a Scotsman, was well regarded for his heroics in naval battles during the Revolution and equally well known for his ability to make enemies of American politicians. His letter brought $56,050 from the same phone bidder.
A letter from Captain Silas Talbot, commander of the Constitution , to Benjamin Stoddert, secretary of the Navy, was written aboard ship July 15, 1800, as the frigate sailed the Caribbean. In it, Talbot discusses a problem with the main mast. Estimated at $600/900, it attained $4,956. The successful bidder was a friend of the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown who gave up the opportunity to sail aboard the vessel on a rare sail around Boston Harbor to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Constitution’s defeat of the Guerrière in order to be in Portsmouth.
Marine paintings by James Edward Buttersworth attracted interest. An oil on millboard portrait of the schooner Columbia racing off the English coast sold for $29,500. The yacht defeated the British vessel Livonia in the America’s Cup race of 1871. Buttersworth’s portrait of the yacht Puritan , the successful defender of the America’s Cup in 1885 went for $15,340 to the same phone bidder. A buyer under the tent paid $23,600 for Buttersworth’s oil on panel view of HMS Seahorse capturing the Turkish frigate Badere Zafer July 5, 1808. The oil on canvas “The Arrival of King George IV at Leith, August 14, 1822” was attributed to Buttersworth and achieved $22,240.
Ship paintings by James Bard included a portrait of the Oswego , the first large steamboat made to tow barges and canal boats on the Hudson River, that sold for $40,120. Bard’s portrait of the sidewheeler Victoria realized $29,500. The vessel was built at Mystic, Conn., in 1859 for use as a towboat on the Mississippi. She was commandeered by the Confederates, who used her as a blockade runner and gunboat. The picture was sold previously at Northeast in 2001. A portrait of the paddlewheeler Troy sailing past the Palisades was attributed to Bard and drew $27,140 from a left bid.
William Bygrave’s portrait of the brigantine Newsboy entering the harbor at Messina, Italy, painted in about 1860, went to a phone bidder for $31,860. Newsboy was built in Elisha Brown’s yard at Owls Head, Maine, and was engaged in the Triangle Trade.
“Sailboard in Morning Light” by Warren Sheppard, noted designer of racing yachts and competing navigator aboard them, elicited a bidding competition. When a phone bidder hesitated once too often, the painting sold to a tent bidder for $22,420, against the estimated $4/8,000.
China Trade paintings of note included a panoramic oil on canvas view of Hong Kong and the harbor from the 1860s that stirred five telephone bidders and several in the gallery until it sold to one of the phone bidders for $56,640. An 8-by-23-inch panoramic watercolor view of the hongs at Honan across the river from Canton went for $36,580 to a dealer bidding for a Chinese collector. The same buyer was the underbidder on the Schuerbeck figurehead. A signed circa 1865 view by Lai Sung depicting Hong Kong with American, British, Dutch and Chinese shipping was $30,680.
While prices were strong for the most part, despite a couple of misses, such as the Susan’s tooth and a Bellamy eagle that passed because of high reserves, some interesting lower ticket items really took off.
For example, five phones chased a pair of Chinese Export famille rose porcelain candlesticks, circa 1765, decorated with scenes of a boy astride a water buffalo with a dog in pursuit. Estimated at $800․1,200 and with a Quincy Adams family provenance, the pair finished at $7,316. Four phones landed on a large circa 1795 Chinese Export porcelain platter in underglaze blue and white pseudo tobacco leaf pattern that they pushed past its estimated $800․1,200 to $3,540. A Chinese Export porcelain rose Fitzhugh pattern estimated at $1/1,500 was $9,440. A pair of Chinese Export vases in the mandarin pallet with domestic scenes fetched $14,160.
Four phones were on a pair of Eighteenth Century Chinese Chippendale side chairs made for the English market in black lacquer with lacquered leather seats that sold for $23,600. The chairs were deaccessioned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The museum also deaccessioned a War of 1812 proclamation of a “Cartel for the Exchange of Prisoners of War Between Great Britain and the United States of America” that realized $4,130.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For more information, www.northeastauctions.com or 603-433-8400.
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