Published: February 5, 2008
A Philadelphia scalloped-top tea table, the second most expensive ever auctioned, led Americana Weeks sales at Christie’s. The January 17‱8 sales tallied $18,147,963.
When it last came up in 1990, the Stevenson family tea table sold to Leigh Keno for $1.2 million, an auction record, purchased on behalf of noted Philadelphia collector Richard Dietrich. After Dietrich died in August, Dietrich American Foundation consigned the work. Underbid by Maryland dealer Milly McGehee, the table brought $5,417,000 from G.W. Samaha, underbidder of the Fisher-Fox family table auctioned by Christie’s for a record $6,761,000 this past October. The carving on the Fisher-Fox table is attributed to the Garvan Carver. The carving on the Stevenson table appears to be the work of Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez.
A third Philadelphia tea table, whose carving is also attributed to the Garvan Carver, sold at Sotheby’s on January 19 to a phone bidder for $1,833,000. Condition helped determine price, said Leigh Keno.
“The Fisher-Fox table was an incredible object of great and original design. The Stevenson table had a different feeling. It was fully developed and all the elements were carved. Its upper shaft is fluted, which is very rare if not unique. The McMichael-Tilghman table at Sotheby’s is the most fully developed and exuberant example. It would have made between five and eight million dollars if it had finish like the other two tables,” the dealer said.
An unusual Philadelphia Chippendale mahogany desk and bookcase that descended in the Willing family brought $409,000 against an estimate of $500/800,000. Highly architectural and most likely inspired by an English print source, its entablature incorporates an alternating series of rosettes and triglyphs. In extensive research, Christie’s established possible links with a 1739 air pump case at the Library Company of Philadelphia and an elaborate, pediment-top Philadelphia desk and bookcase in the Kaufman collection.
A Boston high chest of drawers was another success. Considered the ultimate example of its form, the bonnet-top example with fluted pilasters and ball and claw feet went to C.L. Prickett Antiques for $1,049,000. The piece is attributed to Benjamin Frothingham, Jr, of Charlestown, Mass.
The buyer of the Stevenson family tea table, Bill Samaha, also claimed a fancifully inlaid candlestand for $385,000. Cherry, with urn and vine inlays, the table, which has a single drawer supporting its tilt top, is attributed to central Massachusetts maker Nathan Lombard.
An eastern Connecticut Queen Anne carved maple dressing table that descended in the Devotion family of Connecticut sold to a private collector for $241,000. By tradition, it was a wedding gift to Judge Ebenezer Devotion and Eunice Huntington in 1764.
One hundred ninety-two lots of American silver, published in a dedicated catalog, garnered $2,599,575. Highlights included an extravagant Tiffany & Co., silver gilt and enamel vase in the Burmese taste. Designed by Paulding Farnham for the 1900 Paris Exposition, it grossed $265,000. An 801-piece, circa 1943 Tiffany flatware service in the Winthrop pattern from the estate of hotelier Leona Helmsley fetched $133,000. Fifty-three lots of thoroughbred racing trophies from the collection of trainer Hirsch Jacob and his wife, Edith, included a set of eight gold plates by Shreve & Co., San Francisco, $58,600.
Following the silver, 37 Audubon prints from the Edward and Carol Valentine collection were sold to benefit Ganna Walska Lotusland, a botanic garden in Santa Barbara, Calif. The slew included “Snowy Owl” (Plate CXXL), after John James Audubon by Robert Havel, $121,000, and “American White Pelican” and “Roseate Spoonbill,” each $73,000. From another consignor, a complete set of six hand colored lithograph views of Commodore Perry’s Japan Expedition , by W. Heine, exceeded estimate, selling for $49,000.
In association with Guyette & Schmidt, Inc, Christie’s offered 71 lots of decoys. The joint effort was not as successful as last year. Nearly half the lots passed, including a hollow merganser hen by Captain Charles Osgood of Salem, Mass., circa 1850s, at $190,000, and a Deer Island, Maine, eider drake, at $320,000. A hollow carved Canada goose by Nathan Cobb Jr of Cobb Island, Va., was a notable success, selling to Boston dealer Stephen O’Brien Jr for $457,000.
Property from the estate of Fairfield County, Conn., collectors Charles H. Carpenter Jr and his wife, Mary Grace, was included. Published extensively on American decorative arts, their 1987 book, The Arts and Crafts of Nantucket , grew from their affection for the island. Their 1837 Greek Revival house was filled with the marine and China Trade objects they studied and wrote about.
The nearly 70 lots spurred competitive bidding. Nantucket dealer Nina Hellman claimed a pair of scrimshaw whale’s teeth engraved with a figure of a sailor and an allegory of Hope for $49,000. A pair of whalebone and ivory Nantucket candlesticks dating to the mid-Nineteenth Century brought $46,600 from a collector seated in the gallery, who also bought an ivory seahorse jagging wheel for $37,000. A phone bidder purchased an ivory and whale bone Nantucket fist and serpent walking stick for $46,600. An 1881 lion’s head by Nantucket woodcarver James Walter Folger fetched $91,000. An engraved and inlaid mahogany and satinwood work box, its top decorated with a sailing ship, brought $32,200.
Christie’s Americana Week sales closed with 64 lots of folk art from various sources. A 22½-inch-tall molded and gilt copper Goddess of Liberty weathervane led the group at $109,000 ($60/90,000). An Edward Hicks portrait of George Washington passed at $150/250,000. Oil on board, it was the property of a Hicks descendent.
The Collection Of Marguerite And Arthur Riordan
Marguerite and Arthur Riordan’s loft living space overlooking the harbor in Stonington, Conn., where fishing boats have docked for more than 200 years, is bare now. On January 18, the Riordans cleaned house, saying they wanted a simpler life. Their single-owner sale at Christie’s realized $2.6 million, $500,000 over estimate. It was a tribute to Marguerite Riordan, an influential dealer for more than 30 years.
The walls of Riordan’s Pearl Street office are lined with dozens of her advertisements from The Magazine Antiques. These paper tributes, along with Christie’s handsome catalog, summarize Riordan’s taste and accomplishments with characteristic brevity and reserve. They testify to her refined appreciation of subtly understated New England country furniture, primitive portraiture and folk art.
A New Yorker by upbringing, Riordan developed a passion for Americana in the galleries of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the antiques shops that lined Third Avenue. She and her husband, Arthur, moved to Connecticut in 1955, eventually settling in Stonington, a historic coastal village near the Rhode Island border. She began as a collector. The sale included pieces that she bought 50 years ago from Windsor, Conn., dealer Horace Porter and Ashaway, R.I., dealers Mary and Sarah Andrews.
Riordan admired and learned from, among others, Mary Allis and Florene Maine, leading women dealers to whom she has sometimes been compared. She was helping Virginia Madden, a neighbor in Glastonbury, Conn., at shows when manager Russell Carrell spotted her talent and asked her to do Southport-Westport. Her booth at the Winter Antiques Show was for many years a favorite meeting place.
The sale included objects the couple lived with, as well as some unsold inventory. After the Riordans decided to sell at auction, they turned down private offers on individual items, such as the blue sack back Windsor armchair that David Schorsch acquired for $27,400. Schorsch said that he and Wayne Pratt previously offered Riordan nearly double that amount. Though the sale had its disappointing moments, the Riordans say they are pleased with Christie’s effort and are glad that old friends got some good buys.
A pronounced love of place characterized the collection, a tidy gathering of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Long Island, N.Y., objects, many of them made within an hour or two of the collectors’ home. The historical bent of the assemblage made it attractive to institutions.
For instance, Philadelphia dealer Amy Finkel bought an 1831 Norwich, Conn., house sampler and quickly resold it to the Connecticut Historical Society, which is in the midst of a major survey of Connecticut needlework, both its own 250 piece holding and those of public and private collectors in the area. Dr Susan P. Schoelwer, CHS’s director of collections, said Elizabeth P. Moore’s sampler, designed with a central octagon pictorial motif surrounded by eight smaller octagons containing picture and verse, probably illustrates Norwich’s distinctive town green and its surrounding structures.
“If you look very closely, there is a large house with a tavern sign, a nice tie in with our outstanding tavern sign collection. I now know of three or four samplers from this area. We bought another one from Coventry, Conn., a couple of years ago. Another nice detail is the vignette of the woman and daughter. Their big puffy sleeves are very carefully worked and quite charming,” said the curator.
The Riordans’ confident taste in primitive portraiture was displayed in three monumental pictures that performed well above estimate: John S. Blunt’s likeness of the Willard family, $157,000; Joseph Whiting Stock’s portrait of Martha Otis Bullock, $145,000; and the penetrating double portrait of Long Islanders Job and Mary Ann Hall Babcock by Orlando Hand Bears, $115,000.
“Mr Dilbee,” Ammi Phillips’s rosy cheeked likeness of a Pine Plains, N.Y., man, garnered $29,000; attributed to Ralph Earl, a pair of portraits of General Jonathan Davis and Sarah Hammond Davis sold for $25,000; and a girl in a red dress with a kitten brought $79,000. In recent years, Riordan returned to one of her first loves, miniatures. The sale included a dozen likenesses by Mrs Moses B. Russell, an artist popular among folk art collectors.
Furniture, mirroring trends elsewhere, was soft. Three lots failed to meet reserve: the Kittredge family bonnet-top highboy, probably a Marblehead, Mass., example ($200/300,000); a red-stained William and Mary butterfly table ($30/40,000); and an early Eighteenth Century oak Hadley chest carved with the initials “M.C.” ($100/150,000). The Riordans bought it for $180,000 at Sotheby’s two years ago. Happy to have the pieces back, they did not wait for Christie’s to broker a private sale.
A child’s highchair from the collection of Mr and Mrs Adolph Henry Meyer led a group of Windsor chairs at $49,000. The Riordans paid $51,750 for it in 1996. On the upside, a one-drawer Sheraton stand flew by estimate to sell for $27,400. One of Marguerite Riordan’s favorite things, a large grain painted apothecary cabinet with sliding glass doors, reached $27,400.
Christie’s was on safer ground with folk art and accessories. The collection’s signature piece, a carved and painted steamboat weathervane dated 1858, sold for $313,000, a six-figure increase over its 1977 purchase price. A 25-inch burl bowl brought an unheard of $181,000, selling to New York dealer Leigh Keno. A painted dome-top box, 12 inches long, drew $21,500; a selection of cooking implements, $85,000; and a French Canadian chandelier, $54,000.
Margot Rosenberg, the sale’s organizer, said she was thrilled with results and with the crowd that came out for the chance to buy something that had belonged to the Riordans.
“The secret of collecting,” said Marguerite Riordan, “is really loving the material.”
Property From The Collection Of George And Lesley Schoedinger
George Schoedinger, a St Louis orthopedic surgeon, and his wife, Lesley, bought some of their first pieces of American furniture from Taylor B. Williams way back in the 1970s, when the late Chicago dealer still lived in Missouri.
The Schoedingers accelerated their collecting over the past 15 years. They bought from top dealers, developing especially close ties with Nathan Liverant and Son of Colchester, Conn., and Quakerstown, Penn., consultant and conservator Alan Miller.
Some of their things were shown at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1999 in “Useful Beauty: Early American Decorative Arts from Saint Louis Collections” and published in an accompanying catalog, funded in part by the Schoedingers and Mr and Mrs Paul R. Cahn, Mr and Mrs Edward J. Nusrala, Dr and Mrs Matthew Newman, Mr and Mrs James F. Dierberg, the Acanthus Society and Sotheby’s.
On January 18, Christie’s realized $1,306,925 on nearly 60 lots, most of it furniture. Arthur Liverant, whose provenance was sprinkled throughout the single-owner catalog, repurchased nearly a dozen pieces, most of them for stock.
Heading his list was a Connecticut River Valley Queen Anne cherrywood and birch chest-on-frame, $73,000, that the Schoedingers loaned to Historic Deerfield between 1998 and 2007.
“It has such character, strength and imagination, all wrapped up with great surface and color,” Liverant said of the high-country case piece, whose decorative flourishes include a shaped top, fancifully scalloped skirt and short cabriole legs.
Leigh Keno was equally pleased with his purchases. “It is a lovely thing, New York and rare,” the Manhattan dealer said of a circa 1750 mahogany dressing table with scalloped skirt and slipper feet, estimated at $40/60,000, that he bought back for $115,000. Keno’s other purchase, for $103,000, was a Boston Chippendale walnut side chair that well exceeded its $20/30,000 estimate.
The top lot, a pair of Boston Queen Anne walnut side chairs that descended in the Deblois and Wesson families, went to Yardley, Penn., dealer C. L. Prickett Antiques for $133,000 ($50/80,000).
Atlanta dealer Deanne Levison acquired a Connecticut tray-top Queen Anne sycamore and maple tea table, $61,000, and a Newport Queen Anne mahogany dressing table, possibly by Christopher or Job Townsend, for $91,000.
Downingtown, Penn., dealer Philip Bradley bought back a William and Mary Philadelphia gate-leg table, $43,000.
Disappointments included a Goddard-Townsend Newport dressing table, passed at $350,000; a Newport Chippendale mahogany easy chair attributed to John Goddard, passed at $190,000; a Boston Chippendale mahogany card table, passed at $14,000; and the Enoch Hazard Windsor writing armchair, passed at $11,000.
All prices reported include buyer’s premium. For information, 212-636-2000 or www.Christies.com .
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