Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Hindman
CINCINNATI, OHIO – No one can argue that Andrew Clemens’ sand bottles are enjoying a moment. In the past six months, five of his bottles have sold at auction for a combined $3.5 million, with the current record set at $956,000 at Hindman on September 30, followed by two bottles, both offered at Skinner in late November, that each realized $852,500. The most recent of these awe-inspiring pieces – of which there are only about 100 known to exist – sold at Hindman on March 10 for $800,000, the top price realized in a two-day Americana auction March 10-11.
Is the market for Clemens’ sand bottles cooling? Will a better one come to market that resets the record? What we do know is that the most recently auctioned bottle checked many of the boxes to warrant a high six-figure price. It was of impressive and unusually large size at 10½ inches tall; it had a highly detailed composition that featured several different and complex decorative elements, and it had stayed in the family of its original owner, so it was fresh to the market. Made in 1889, near the end of Andrew Clemens’ (1857-1894) life, the bottle demonstrated the mastery he had developed. It depicted on one side a coal burning locomotive at a railroad station, with freight cars stretching into the distance and another locomotive in the background; a solitary freight yard worker stacks pieces of freight. “N.J. Goll” is written in script below the scene. The other side is equally complex and features a central panel with the sidewheel packet boat St Paul under a full head of steam. A wingspread eagle clutching a patriotic shield and “E Pluribus Unum” banner is situated above the ship; interestingly, the bottle is one of just two known to feature both the eagle and shield motifs.
An unbroken line of ownership through Nicholas J. Goll’s family was outlined in the sale’s catalog. Born in St Louis, Mo., in 1840, Goll had a long career working for the railroad, working successive positions for various railroads before his last job as an assistant general freight agent for the Chicago Milwaukee & St Paul Railroad. At the time the bottle was made, a major arm of the Chicago Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad ran from Milwaukee, Wisc., to Rapid City, S.D. The line passed through Clemens’ hometown of McGregor, Iowa, a major transshipment point for Midwestern wheat as well as a regular stop for steamboat traffic.
If there were any excuses to be made for the bottle, it might be a small area of the lower decorative register that had been disrupted that affected the colorful ripples.
“We were not concerned,” Benjamin Fisher, Hindman’s director of Americana said. “Seemingly, it was a condition that had been there for a great portion of the bottle’s existence, but it did give a bit of a pause. I’d be willing to bet that it might have sold for more if that issue had not been there.” He was quick to say that the seller “is thrilled” with the price it brought.
Fisher noted that the field of serious competitors for these bottles is fairly small, with the buyer and underbidders being on the phone. He was pleased to see new bidders who left absentee bids. While he couldn’t identify the buyer, he said this was not their first purchase of a Clemens bottle.
The two-day auction offered 680 lots of American furniture, folk and decorative arts, with a sell-through rate of 85 percent and a total of $1,795,000, a tally Fisher said with post-auction sales would likely conclude at $1.8 million.
Two regulators claimed the second and third highest results in the sale. Clocking in at $68,750 was a Gothic Revival carved mahogany tall case astronomical regulator, made by the Boston firm of E. Howard & Co., circa 1860. It sold to a private collector who “has others,” Fisher said. The other was a Renaissance Revival carved walnut example that was taller at 126 inches. Made in 1880 for J.S. Townsend of Chicago, it was attributed to George Jones, New York. A trade buyer that Fisher thought might have been bidding for a client paid $50,000 for it.
“Provenance doesn’t get much better than that,” Fisher said, referencing a group of glass that had once been in the collection of George S. McKearin Sr, who, along with his daughter, Helen, co-authored the authoritative work, American Glass, which, despite having been published more than 75 years ago, remains a bible for enthusiasts.
An unidentified Midwestern institution that had acquired the pieces from George S. McKearin Jr offered 27 lots of flasks, bottles, vases, salt cellars, pitchers and decanters in a veritable rainbow of colors. Leading the group was an American pint sized circa 1824-40 molded flask in yellow green that featured Columbia wearing a Liberty cap on one side, the other side with an American eagle and the initials B&W. A New York molded glass flask in light sapphire blue made by the Lancaster Glass Works had a locomotive design with the inscription “Success To The Railroad” on both sides. Bidders took it to $23,750.
While Fisher could not disclose the identity of the buyers, he said they were “a variety of buyers, all in the United States, all of whom have a strong affinity for this type of material.”
The best buy in the sale was probably a Classical parcel-gilt, stencil-decorated, carved and inlaid mahogany tilt-top breakfast table attributed to Anthony Quervelle (1789-1856), circa 1825, which sold below estimate and achieved $13,750 from a private Southern collector. Fisher said a set of drawings from the Quervelle Archives illustrating a near identical tabletop and base, with wood choice suggestion, was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The tradition of livestock portraits was commonplace in the United Kingdom but less widely practiced in the United States. Two paintings of cows, both belonging to Gideon Sibert of Jacksonville, Ill., were in the sale. Both oil on board portraits measured 10 by 14 inches and had been painted by E.W. Dewey (American, 1850-1939), who worked in Illinois. Each were offered at $400/600, and both sold to the same buyer, with the portrait of a 3-year-old blue roan named Richard Yates selling for $10,625, while the portrait of a 5-year-old prize cow named Flora rode to $5,625.
The second day of the sale got off to a fun start, with more than 50 lots of coin-operated machines and games from the Lee and Paula South Collection, Albuquerque, N.M., which Hindman’s Denver, Colo., office had been instrumental in securing for auction. Bidders emptied their pockets for a Mike Munves one-cent high striker skill game in an oak case that stood more than 100 inches tall and topped off at $8,438; it was followed fairly closely behind by a Buckley Reliance five-cent jackpot dice slot machine, made circa 1937, that closed out at $8,125.
Hindman’s next Americana sale is currently scheduled for September 13-14.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For more information, 312-280-1212 or www.hindmanauctions.com.