Americana Week in January seems to be getting bigger each year. Concerned that buyers are being overwhelmed with choices, Christie’s decided to shift some of its firepower to its fall sale on October 3.
A deceptively thin catalog accompanied the Wednesday afternoon event, which grossed $10,904,250 on 94 entries sold. Thirty-five lots passed.
The star attraction was a Philadelphia mahogany piecrust tea table with elaborate surface embellishment attributed to the Garvan Carver. The table, which was probably made for a member of the Fisher, Fox, Pleasants or Wharton families around 1760, remained with descendants for generations. Christie’s announced the new discovery in August.
Just days before the Christie’s auction, Sotheby’s made an astounding disclosure of its own: it had secured a very similar table, which it plans to sell in January. Sotheby’s table, estimated at $2/6 million, is also decorated by the Garvan Carver and has a history in the Fox-Tilghman family of Philadelphia. It is long known from William MacPherson Hornor’s 1935 Blue Book Philadelphia Furniture , where it is described as “The Acme of Perfection in American Piecrust Tables.”
Both tables officially went on view in New York on September 29, allowing prospective buyers to inspect each carefully.
Naturally, Sotheby’s staff came to watch Christie’s sell its masterpiece. Laughter broke out in the room when Christie’s auctioneer and deputy chairman John Hays gaveled down an Audubon print of a skunk to William Stahl, a Sotheby’s vice chairman.
Estimated at $2/3 million, Christie’s piecrust table brought $6,761,000 from Todd Prickett of C.L. Prickett Antiques in Yardley, Penn. Prickett was underbid by Ohio dealer G.W. Samaha. Competing for stock, New York dealer Leigh Keno was out at $1.8 million. The price is a record for Philadelphia furniture, surpassing the 1990 sale of the Thomas Tufft tea table for $4.6 million.
Christie’s staunchly maintains that its table †beautifully proportioned and crisply carved but with a split in its slightly warped top and flaking varnish, evidence of minimal intervention over the years †is the superior example.
“This was the opportunity of a lifetime for anyone who loves American furniture. It is the single greatest piece of Philadelphia furniture to survive from the Eighteenth Century. The miracle of its surface was just icing on the cake,” said John Hays.
From the same consignor of the Christie’s piecrust and with the same provenance, a dish-top Philadelphia tea table of about 1760 left the room at $43,000.
Christie’s completed its trifecta with the sale of a very high style Philadelphia open armchair for $1,049,000. Again, it went to C.L. Prickett Antiques. Heavily carved on its arms and legs, the chair is thought to have been made by Thomas Affleck and carved by Martin Jugiez. It originally belonged to Governor John Penn.
Among other furniture highlights was a Rhode Island Chippendale mahogany desk and bookcase attributed to John Carlile Jr of Providence. It went to Atlanta dealer Deanne Levison for $193,000.
From a private New Jersey collection came a Boston Chippendale mahogany wing chair, sold to Durham, N.C., dealer Albert Sack for $73,000. The Wistar family Philadelphia walnut side chair, with carving attributed to Bernard and Jugiez, achieved $58,600.
French for the American market, a gilt bronze Dubuc mantel clock surmounted by an eagle and the figure of George Washington went to a private collector bidding by phone for $205,000.
Thirty-four lots deaccessioned by the Atwater-Kent Museum, Philadelphia’s local history museum, drew buyers of American folk art. Heading the group were trade figures, some acquired for the museum by a former Atwater-Kent director in 1956 and 1960 at Parke Bernet sales of property from the Narragansett Brewing Company Foundation and dealer Helena Penrose. The figures were among the finest examples to come to auction since Sotheby’s auctioned Dapper Dan for $258,500 in 1986.
“We are selling these figures because they have nothing to do with Philadelphia. They have been in storage for the past 60 years,” the museum’s executive director Viki Sand explained. Sales proceeds will be used to upgrade the Atwater-Kent’s outdated physical systems, including climate control.
Heading the group was a 47-inch-tall figure of Jack Tarr, the prototypical sailor. Expressively carved and its paint miraculously intact, the figure, possibly by Samuel Robb of New York and ex collection of Penrose, went to curator Daniel Finamore on behalf of the Peabody Essex Museum for $541,000, far exceeding its $100/150,000 estimate.
In partnership with two other dealers, Woodbridge, Conn., folk sculpture specialist Allan Katz acquired the carved and painted Lord Dundreary trade figure attributed to Samuel Robb for $409,000, more than quadrupling the $80,000 high estimate. The 61½-inch sculpture brought $1,900 in 1956 when it was auctioned as part of the Haffenreffer collection of cigar store Indians.
Katz underbid the 70-inch-tall Lady of Fashion figure, also probably by Robb. The rare subject went to Katz’s colleague David Wheatcroft of Massachusetts for $385,000. The Massachusetts dealer acquired the matching Gentleman of Fashion figure, 71 inches tall, for $145,000.
Shown with its legs intact in a circa 1911 photograph taken outside a shopfront, a weathered figure of Admiral George Dewey reappeared as a three-quarter-length figure mounted on a scrolled base by the dealer who years ago offered it as a ship’s figurehead. The compelling relic was a good buy at $46,600, going to Woodbury, Conn., dealers Eileen Smiles and David Schorsch.
In worn condition, a massive molded copper locomotive weathervane, 71½ inches long, fetched $157,000.
Christie’s concluded the session with a marble-top Rococo Revival rosewood Belter center table, $46,600, and a stamped Herter Brothers ebonized and inlaid dressing bureau, $23,750. A New York pedestal-end sideboard and cellaret of circa 1820″0 drew a bid of $18,750 from an Internet buyer, demonstrating that electronic bidding is slowly making inroads at the highest levels.
Prices include the buyer’s premium. For information, 212-636-2000 or www.Christies.com .