Published: January 29, 2002
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – What Christie’s lacked in volume it made up for in the magnitude of a few stellar lots at its January 18 and 19 sale of Important American Furniture, Silver and Folk Art. The auction grossed $10.3 million on just 390 rdf_Descriptions, a fraction of the number of lots offered across town at Sotheby’s. With 84 percent of the auction sold by lot, results at Christie’s offered evidence of the market’s dramatic rebound from its anemic performance last fall.
“The market came roaring back,” agreed auctioneer John Hays, one of four international directors at Christie’s. “Not only is it resilient, but there are very few cracks. It’s solid for blue-chip material.”
Christie’s totals were buoyed by four record-setting rdf_Descriptions: the Lafayette-Washington pair of steel-mounted saddle pistols, sold to anonymous foundation for $1,986,000; a Queen Anne carved walnut Philadelphia side chair, auctioned for $666,000, again to an anonymous phone bidder; a Queen Anne mahogany block-and-shell carved Newport tall-case clock, knocked down to dealer George Samaha, also for $666,000; and a pair of Lannuier card tables, sold for $611,000 each, both going to one phone bidder.
Notching a record for a firearm, as well as for any rdf_Description owned by the nation’s first president, the Eighteenth Century French steel-mounted pistols were made by Jacob Walster, circa 1775-6. They were presented by the Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington during the American Revolution. Later owned by Andrew Jackson, they returned to the Lafayette family, descending by bequest until their private sale in 1958. They sold again, at auction in Paris, in 1983, and have since been in a private collection in New York.
Purchased by a private foundation, it is likely that the historic rdf_Descriptions will eventually be on public view. Other pistols owned by Washington are in the collections of West Point Museum and Mount Vernon.
There was vigorous competition from dealers and collectors in the room for a Philadelphia carved walnut side chair from the estate of William Serri, Jr. Setting a record for a Queen Anne side chair, the piece, which dates to about 1750, sold anonymously for $666,000.
Its long sales history includes inclusion in the Reifsnyder auction in 1929, where it was knocked down for $9,000. It is from a group of chairs, two of which may be found at Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Del. The record for any American side chair still stands at $1.5 million.
Setting a record for an American timepiece, a block-and-shell carved Newport tall-case clock was knocked down in the room to dealer George W. Samaha for $666,000. The works were created by James Wady; the stately case is thought to have been made in the workshop of Job Townsend, Sr., or that of Job Townsend, Jr., and his brother-in-law, John Goddard. The clock is one of only six that survives with Wady’s engraved brass dial.
Made by New York cabinetmaker Charles-Honore Lannuier for Philadelphia merchant George Harrison and his wife, Sophia, two stylish card tables with brass inlays, gilded caryatid supports, and paw feet sold to one phone bidder for $611,000 each.
The underbidder on the first table was Jack Lindsey. The curator of American decorative arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art wanted the piece because of its strong Philadelphia history and because his institution, despite its exceptional collections, has no examples of Lannuier furniture.
Christie’s, which sold a Lannuier pier table for $704,000 in 1991, holds the record for the French-born cabinetmaker. The pair of card tables brought considerably more than the last time that they were auctioned. They had been reunited after the first table sold at Sotheby’s in 1996 for just under $400,000; Christie’s auctioned the second one in 1997, for $498,000.
“We saw extraordinary prices for Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American silver,” said Jeanne Sloane, head of Christie’s silver department. “In particular, Tiffany pieces attracted tremendous interest, as did Aesthetic Movement silver. Of course, we were also thrilled to set a record for an American tankard.”
The latter honor was conferred on a previously unpublished and unrecorded example by the first Huguenot goldsmith in New York, Bartholomew Le Roux. One of fewer than 20 objects that survive by Le Roux, the tankard is engraved with a coat of arms in a baroque cartouche with pendant fruit. The base is engraved with the vessel’s date of manufacture, “1710,” and the name of its owner, “Obadiah Huntt.” Hunt was the prosperous owner of a tavern at 35 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan that catered to English and Huguenot merchants. When bidding closed, the tankard, estimated at $250/350,000, had sold to a couple seated in the room for $534,000.
Leading the morning sale of folk art was a 24-inch-wide copper weathervane in the form of a squirrel grasping a nut raised to his mouth. Attributed to L.W. Cushing & Sons of Waltham, Mass., this rare form sold for $292,000 to Stephen Score. The Boston dealer was underbid by New York dealer Sy Rappaport, agent for collector Jerry Lauren. The piece had been estimated at $4/6,000. Dealers say they’ve seen only one other example and there was a report that the mold survives at the American Museum of Folk Art.
Other folk art highlights included a pair of bright red Portsmouth, N.H., firebuckets, inscribed “Mechanic Fire Society” and “Jeremiah Johnson,”sold for $82,250 against an estimate of $5/7,000; “The Landing of Columbus,” a silk embroidery worked at Susannah Rowson’s School in Boston in the early Nineteenth Century, sold to Old Saybrook, Conn., dealers Stephen and Carol Huber for $82,250; and a silk mourning picture for Priscilla Hodges, circa 1807, auctioned for $41,125.
With sales of American furniture and decorative arts on the upswing, Hays says Christie’s will return to its tradition of three seasonal sales a year. Dates for the June auction have not been announced.
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