Published: April 18, 2017
EAST DENNIS, MASS — Spring was in the air over the weekend of April 6-8 at Eldred’s, where two Audubon prints joined scrimshaw from the collection of the late Thomas Mittler as top sellers in a varied offering of more than a thousand lots of paintings, prints, decorative arts and jewelry.
To reach its market of collectors and affluent coastal homeowners, Eldred’s worked with Design No. 5 of Hyannis, Mass., to stage the sale. Photographs reprinted in Eldred’s glossy, 300-plus-page auction catalog suggested the opportunities awaiting buyers at New England’s oldest continuing auction house. Nearly 650 bidders took part in the auction, testament, one would think, to the promotion.
Leading sales was the cover lot, an elephant-folio edition engraving of John Joseph Audubon’s “Carolina Parrot,” bid to $78,000, including premium (all prices provided include the premium).
From the same Cape Cod estate, a second Audubon elephant folio, “Pileated Woodpecker,” made $42,000. Both works were printed and colored by R. Havell on Whatman-watermarked paper.
“These were fine examples of two desirable Audubons, They hung in a room without much light. The colors were still vibrant and beautiful,” said Bill Bourne, Eldred’s vice president and head of its Americana and maritime art departments. Superior condition on the first print accounted for the difference in price, Bourne said.
The action got underway on Thursday, April 6, with 250 lots of sporting art, militaria, books, maps and collectibles. Among the highlights was a life-size decorative carving of a killdeer shorebird, $16,800, by A.E. Crowell; and a 13-star American flag, $13,200. Two lots of French bisque-head dolls, one a Bru Bebe, made $13,800. Ten phone bidders chased an Eighteenth Century terrestrial pocket globe by I. Senex with its original sharkskin case to $14,400.
Last October, Eldred’s auctioned the first of three installments of scrimshaw documented in the 2015 book Through the Eyes of a Collector: The Scrimshaw Collection of Thomas Mittler by Nantucket, Mass., dealer Nina Hellman. Mittler, who died in 2010, began collecting scrimshaw in 1969. Three lots in the October sale exceeded $100,000 each.
“This second session was designed to be smaller than the first session, and the third and final session coming up this summer,” said Bourne. He added, “Because this was an Americana sale, I included some of the more folky pieces. Tom Mittler loved the portrait teeth, which are not as strong in the marketplace right now. The scrimshaw people are most interested in whaling scenes and ships’ portraits.”
A whale’s tooth embellished with a view of the naval engagement between the Shannon and the Chesapeake, with a scene of a gale on reverse, made $72,000. The tooth’s decoration is attributed to the Lady Wellington engraver.
A colorful tooth attributed to Moses Denning, with an image of a ship on the obverse and a portrait of a woman on the reverse, made $18,000. Two teeth attributed to the Britannia Engraver, both depicting Lady Britannia, went for a combined $31,200. A polychrome tooth with multiple patriotic and maritime-themed vignettes doubled estimate to bring $19,200.
The sale was rich in paintings, much of it of coastal and nautical interest. “Head-to-Head, The Sandbaggers,” a large yachting scene by Michael Keane, achieved $24,000. “Becalmed off Sankaty Light, Nantucket” by Joseph McGurl brought $9,000. “Boats at Dock” by Emile Gruppe went for $7,800.
“We were happy to see renewed interest in Nineteenth Century paintings, many of which exceeded their high estimate,” said company president Josh Eldred, who heads the fine arts department.
A Ralph E. Cahoon Jr painting of gentlemen conversing with a mermaid went for $23,750. The ship portrait “City of Corinth” by Frederik Tudgay brought $6,000, the same price paid for an Arctic whaling scene by William Bradford. “Caid El Ayadi,” a watercolor, gouache and charcoal by Henri Rousseau, crossed the block at $8,750.
A local customer consigned two large Cape Cod-themed murals found rolled up in a garage. The signed works were by William Riseman and Alexander Lercari, who specialized in theater decor and worked throughout New England and New York.
“We presumed they came from a public building here on the Cape, but we didn’t know where,” said Josh Eldred. A local newspaper published photos of the Art Deco-style murals, prompting readers to identify them as from the Hyannis Theatre, active from 1923 to about the late 1960s. Estimated at $1,5/2,500, they achieved $5,625.
“There is still a market for the best of the best, but people aren’t dropping ten or twenty thousand dollars on a dressing table anymore,” Bourne said. “People want something that looks good that they can use in their house, whether it’s a clean period piece or a quality contemporary reproduction.” As an example, he cited a circa 1800 Hepplewhite secretary, $3,250, from the same estate as the Audubons, and a set of six Windsor-style chairs, $2,500, by the Warren Chair Works of Warren, R.I.
Measuring 12½ inches tall and glazed a luscious matte-green, a Grueby Faience and Tile Company vase designed by George Prentiss Kendrick sailed past estimate to bring $21,600. “The vase came in right before our catalog closed. It was just one of those wonderful pieces,” said Bourne.
The sleeper of the sale may have been a pair of early Twentieth Century Soumac saddle bags that closed far above their $100/200 estimate, finishing at $5,400.
In the jewelry category, a Patek Philippe 18K gold man’s wristwatch went for $24,000. Interest on the piece, the first automatic watch made by Patek Philippe, came from multiple sources, with a phone bidder casting the successful bid. In October 2016, Eldred’s sold a Patek Philippe chronograph watch for $276,000.
Next on Eldred’s schedule is Asian Art, May 4–5. The company will sell the last installment of the Mittler collection, plus scrimshaw from other sources, as part of its marine art auction on Thursday, July 20. Eldred’s continues with fine and decorative art, June 22–23; Americana and paintings, August 2–4; and contemporary art, August 10. Eldred’s 50th annual Asian Art Week is set for August 21–26. The company brings to market the Dan Schofield Collection of Political Memorabilia in September.
In addition to its headquarters on Old King’s Highway in East Dennis, the firm maintains an office at 5 Roosevelt Avenue in Mystic, Conn. For information, 508-385-3116 or www.eldreds.com.
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