Published: March 27, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy John McInnis Auctioneers
AMESBURY, MASS. – A winter storm forced John McInnis to postpone his March sale a week. He was finally able to conduct it on March 16 and 17. The sale was well attended both days, and McInnis said the one-week delay turned out beneficial in that it allowed time for more people to preview the sale, thus increasing the number of absentee bids, of which there were more than 200. More than 1,000 lots were sold, with few items passed. There were about a hundred people in the salesroom each day, with little overlap, several phone lines were in use and internet bidding was available on two platforms.
Internet bidding was noticeably strong, accounting for just about one half of the total sales, and those buyers were also underbidders on several lots, arguably increasing the prices paid by bidders in the room or on the phones. McInnis had put together a varied assortment of fresh merchandise from local estates, including a collection of iron and brass hearth equipment, clocks, jewelry, paintings, mechanical banks and toys, scrimshaw and marine art, early furniture with old surfaces and a broad assortment of country “smalls.”
The first item sold on the first day was an early 13-star hand-stitched flag. The catalog said it was tattered, and it was, but that did not stop it selling quickly to an internet bidder for $9,600. The next item sold was an early hexagonal sheet iron lantern in old red paint and with a two-tiered chimney. It had condition issues, but the crowd liked it, and it finished at $5,400. The first day also included a collection of early hearth equipment and andirons, including a particularly nice wrought iron ratcheting trammel with engraved acanthus leaves and scrolls, which sold to an internet bidder for $570. An Eighteenth Century cast iron kettle with an attached tilter topped the collection, finishing at $840. The same price was achieved by another early signed kettle, this one with a “lazy elbow” tilter. A cast iron cooking pot with a rotating mixer arm, along with two other pieces, brought $510, and a pair of andirons, cataloged as “puddle cast, Seventeenth Century or earlier,” ended up at $240.
One of the local estates yielded a selection of early Queen Anne, Chippendale and other chairs, along with some small pieces of furniture. Most of these pieces retained old surfaces, but prices were certainly affordable. A japanned and painted Queen Anne side chair went to an internet bidder on a single bid of $60, and well-known auctioneer Carl Stinson bought a few pieces, including an early Nineteenth Century mahogany oval top candlestand for $120, a tilt top candlestand for $180 and a Queen Anne transitional side chair for $390. He also bought an inlaid Portsmouth card table with bird’s-eye maple veneer for $600, well below its $3,000 estimate.
Clocks topped the sale. A 77-inch Howard wall clock with a 13-inch dial and in a carved cherry Aesthetic Movement case tripled its estimate, finishing at $45,600. Another Howard wall clock, this one in a carved oak Aesthetic Movement case, sold for $10,800, and an Eighteenth Century Samuel Mulliken tall case clock made in Newburyport, Mass., earned $13,800. Mulliken was a well-respected clockmaker and, according to John Delaney’s website, had ties to the Willard family.
Elmer Stennes, a convicted murderer, is one of the more colorful characters in the clock world, and a selection of his clocks did well. Delaney says, “For 30 years, between the 1940s and the 1970s, Stennes was famous for being the only large-scale reproducer of classic American clock cases in the country. But his former friends and associates remember him for another reason, too – because he killed his wife and later was himself killed. In fact, it’s hard to say whether the clocks and other items made by Stennes are so collectible today because of their quality or because of his notoriety. He made a variety of forms, which included Willard-style time pieces, such as the banjo clock, several shelf clock forms, tall case clocks, which he called grandfathers, grandmothers and others. He was also a good marketer and his clocks were sold nationwide through contacts he made as a member of the National Association of Clock and Watch Collectors.”
In 1968, Stennes killed his wife during an argument, called the police, admitted manslaughter, served about five years in prison and a couple of years after his release was himself murdered, probably by his son, but no one was ever convicted of the crime. There are always buyers for his clocks. There were seven in this sale, with the top price, $3,000, earned by a banjo clock with a weight-driven movement, original tablet and finial. His rocking ship tall case clock in a hooded case on bracket feet, with inlaid borders and a marquetry bouquet of flowers, went out for $2,400.
The sale included several interesting, one-of-a-kind items. A 789-page handwritten record of English court matters, covering the period 1589-1641, surprised all as it finished at $5,100, against an estimate of $250. A Civil War-era sword inscribed “Presented to Lt. Col. B.F. Goddard as the most popular officer in the 6th Mass. regiment by the Citizens of Lowell at a fair for the Benefit of Saint John’s Hospital Dec. 2nd 1868” earned $5,100. The 6th Massachusetts regiment went down in the history books when, on its way to Washington, it was attacked in Baltimore by a secessionist mob, killing four soldiers on April 19, 1861, just days after the firing on Fort Sumter. It was the first blood spilled during the Civil War, and ephemera concerning this event was sold with the sword.
Not expensive, but historically important, was a Nineteenth Century pencil and pastel drawing of a street scene of Market Square, in what is now Amesbury. Products being sold in the stores can be identified, as can some of the store owners. The area is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and the drawing finished at only $270. It was bought by collector and researcher Justin Thomas, who describes it on his Facebook page. A three-volume set of the Lakeside Press edition of Moby Dick, illustrated by Rockwell Kent, was bought by Newbury, Mass., dealer Paul DeCoste for $5,400. Only 1,000 sets were printed. Each volume retained the original acetate jackets, and the set was in its original aluminum slipcase. A set lacking the aluminum case is listed on the internet at $12,000.
There was a treasure for fans of early country music and black-and-white cowboy movies. It was a Stetson hat in its original box, inscribed by Gene Autry (1907-1998) to Massachusetts Governor Leverett Saltonstall (1892-1979). An internet buyer bought it for $390.
A collection of vintage arcade games crossed the block. As McInnis was selling them, he reminisced about the days of his youth spent in arcades at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire and Revere Beach in Massachusetts. As luck would have it, while he was reminiscing, his staff and family presented him with a large birthday cake, it being his 58th birthday. The cake was promptly cut up and served to all those in the gallery. An early five cent 1900s “Five Star Final” pinball machine achieved $600, and a 1969 “flipper skill” pinball game by Gottlieb brought the same price. The surprise of the category was a cast iron, battery-operated “Electric” shooting gallery target made by Mangels of Coney Island, which finished at $7,500. It’s pictured and described on page 23 of a Mangels trade catalog, which says, “a shooter will empty an entire magazine rifle trying to keep the bell ringing continuously.”
A few days after the sale, John McInnis said that the auction had been a success. “Our gross was just over our high estimate for the sale. Very few items had reserves, so nearly everything found new homes. I mentioned a couple of times during the sale that ‘Americana is back,’ and it was. We had a lot of interest in the collection of iron, textiles were strong, painted baskets and smalls were good, and the clocks did well. Younger buyers are understanding that good antiques are affordable now, and often less expensive than a similar piece of furniture at a chain furniture store. I think they’re understanding that not everything has to be an antique but that they can really build an interesting room around a few good antiques. And have something their friends don’t have. It’s a ‘word of mouth’ business, and we have to be positive about what we’re selling and stress affordability.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For additional information, 800-822-1417 or www.mcinnisauctions.com.
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