Published: October 20, 2015
By Laura Beach
DOWNINGTOWN, PENN. — Pook & Pook’s October 3 Americana sale was a compendium of the various and sundry adding up to a handsome $1,581,752. Of the myriad delights offered, no piece was more intriguing than a wood and pewter-inlaid Queen Anne tall case clock with eight-day works by Rudy Stoner (1728–1769), a Pennsylvania Moravian who was active in the borough of Lancaster between 1754 and 1769. Representing Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee, Quakertown, Penn., consultant Alan Miller bid $192,000, including premium, for the clock.
It belongs to a group of inlaid clock cases from Lancaster, many of which will be featured in the Chipstone journal American Furniture 2015 in an article by Lisa Minardi. An authority on Pennsylvania decorative arts and an assistant curator at Winterthur Museum, Minardi is set to reveal the identity of the Stoner clock’s first owner in her essay, “Sulfur Inlay in Pennsylvania German Furniture.”
“It came out of a West Virginia estate,” said auctioneer Ron Pook, who knew instantly that he had something special. “Stoner is a rare clockmaker and then there was that amazing case. Only a handful of similar cases are known. The case combines the work of a great clockmaker, pewterer and cabinet-maker. It’s a dream team.”
Made of cherry, the case stands 100 inches tall. A frieze above its cornice is inlaid in pewter with the date “1762” and the initials “FR” and “ST.” Wood and pewter inlays form a strapwork pattern on the clock’s waist. Concentric quatrefoil inlays of pewter and wood decorate the base.
“Conceptually, this is the most beautiful American late baroque clock hood, a vertical interpretation that is magnificent. This is the only case of this group with the cornice interrupted in the middle with a frieze,” said Miller. “This case maker was obviously an immigrant who came to this country with a vocabulary of decorative ideas and techniques from the southern part of Europe’s German-speaking region. When he arrived here, he was looking toward Anglo clock cases of 20 to 30 years earlier. He took the implicit architecture of the Anglo Philadelphia late baroque clock case, saw the possibility for the form that earlier English-speaking cabinetmakers had not and ran with it.”
On loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a clock belonging to the Dietrich American Foundation is housed in a cherry, mulberry and black walnut case thought to be by the same hand.
The clock’s movement is by John George Hoff, a German-born craftsman who died in Lancaster in 1816. The date “1768” is inlaid in pewter on the bonnet of Hoff clock, whose case is further ornamented with unidentified hardwood and pewter inlay. “George Hoff/Lancaster” is engraved on a plate above the center of the brass dial. The Hoff clock, which was purchased by Alan Miller at Horst Auction in 1998, is decorated with a lover’s knot on its base. A similar motif appears on a 1768 schrank in the collection of Winterthur Museum. Miller is convinced that the Stoner and Hoff clock cases and the schrank are by the same hand. The schrank is illustrated in Paint, Pattern & People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania 1725-1850 by Minardi and Wendy A. Cooper.
Of the Hoff clock, Dietrich American Foundation curator Deborah Rebuck noted, “Once conservator Christopher Storb removed the toned lacquer, which had given the pewter inlay the appearance of brass and darkened the light wood inlay, we could see a combination of woods and metal that would have made the case originally very bright.”
Minardi’s essay will illustrate the Chipstone and Dietrich clocks, plus several other cases, one housing a Stoner mechanism, from private collections. Three of the cases are inlaid with sulfur and two with pewter. “They seem to be made by the same cabinetmaker, who used molten pewter inlay in the same way that he used molten sulfur. He probably worked in the borough of Lancaster. One of the things I am trying to do in the article is demonstrate the importance and sophistication of Lancaster in the 1700s. It was the largest inland town in the British American colonies at the time of the Revolution. While my article is about sulfur inlay throughout Pennsylvania, this Lancaster group is the earliest and one of the best documented of all the Pennsylvania German groups,” Minardi said.
Pook also featured a pair of circa 1795 Salem, Mass., Hepplewhite mahogany dining chairs formerly in the collection of William Thorwarth. With carving attributed to Samuel McIntire, the pair made $40,800 ($20/40,000).
Consigned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a Baltimore Sheraton settee of circa 1810 achieved $33,600 ($3/6000). The settee is attributed to Thomas Renshaw with painted decoration by John Barnhart.
A Philadelphia or Baltimore walnut Chippendale high chest of drawers, circa 1765, sold for $29,520 ($20/30,000).
Paintings included a still life of fruit attributed to Philadelphian James Peale (1749–1831). Retailed by Hirschl & Adler and exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the canvas achieved $16,800 ($12/18,000).
A charming John George Brown genre painting of two boys with a firecracker and a cap gun garnered $31,200 ($20/30,000).
The Modernist canvas “Dusk” by Harold Weston (1894–1972) fetched $28,800.
Perennial favorite Wilhelm Schimmel (1817–90) was represented by two carved and painted folk art figures, a 5¾-inch-tall lion, $57,600, and a 9½-inch-tall eagle, $43,200.
A dated 1829 Mahantongo Valley, Penn., blanket chest for Andreas Braun crossed the block at $31,200 ($20/40,000). Standing on high bracket feet, the chest is illustrated in Henry Reed’s classic book Decorated Furniture of the Mahantongo Valley.
Pook & Pook is at 463 East Lancaster Avenue. For information, 610-269-4040 or www.pookandpook.com.
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