Published: January 16, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Copake Auction
COPAKE, N.Y. — The temperature outside was wavering between a crisp 2 and 7 degrees, but that did not stop attendees from arriving to fill nearly every seat in the house at Copake Auction’s annual New Year’s Day sale. The offerings represented a true, old-fashioned antiques auction, with a selection of 39 weathervanes, cigar store figures, samplers, folk portrait paintings, advertising, early American furniture and clocks, presidential ephemera, stoneware and more. In all, the sale grossed more than $650,000, which was the highest New Year’s Day sale that the firm has ever had. Although there are no friends at an auction, bidders were happy to offer well wishes to each other in the coming year as Don Davis took to the front of the room before auction start to play “Auld Lang Syne” on his saxophone.
Before the start of the sale, auctioneer Seth Fallon posited that there would not be a runaway lot this auction. There was plenty of quality, he said, but no one single lot that would do far and away better than the others. And while he was right, 52 of the 747 total lots sold exceeded the $3,000 mark, an indicator that Copake’s sale was full of good pieces, and bidders that were not present were certainly tuned in from afar, with 2,875 absentee and phone bids and 2,126 registered bidders between in-house and internet platforms.
The top lot of the sale came in the form of an oil stick painting on paper titled “Bird of God” by the late American Neo-Expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which took $12,980. Copake has sold five Basquiat paintings from the same consignor in the past year, all from the same portfolio, and all without a COA, a result that stems from the Basquiat Authentication Committee ceasing any further authentications after 2012. Fallon acknowledged the predicament this placed buyers in, and you could hear the regret in his voice – no one likes to sell art for less than it is potentially worth – but he still believed they were right and came from a reputable collection, acquired by a knowledgeable collector in the 1980s.
Following up behind at $10,620 was a Nineteenth Century cigar store turk figure on original base with first coat paint. The 66-inch-high figure stood with his right arm outstretched, grasping a bushel of tobacco leaves in his hand. It sold to the internet.
Bidders were kept in suspense until the tail end of the sale for 39 lots of original illustration art from the well-known Cream of Wheat advertisements. The illustration art market has grown exponentially since a number of firms began devoting departments to the subject, and these lots fared well with the current heightened interest.
“All of the pieces are original advertising works,” said Fallon. “They came to us from a Long Island collector who got them from a New York gallery years ago. The family said the collector originally paid $80,000 for the collection, so he did well on them. They were well-received and were a rare highlight to the sale.”
In all, the collection brought more than $100,000, with a third of the collection selling to a Pennsylvania gallery. The selection featured illustrations depicting boys and girls of all ages, the elderly, Santa Claus and, most importantly, Rastus, the trademark African American chef emblazoned on the front of the product’s packaging who went on to serve Cream of Wheat to the masses. Interestingly, Rastus’s face was never painted, rather it was pasted on from a one-off illustration so that there was never any variation in the character’s likeness. All of the lots offered had provenance to the Kraft foods collection, which acquired them when Kraft purchased the company from Nabisco in 2000.
Two lots tied at the top of the collection, one being an Edward Vincent Brewer oil on canvas painting titled “Keeping Watch,” which featured a brother and sister asleep by the fireplace, unable to fight the sleep away as they waited for Santa, who stood in front of them with a gift in hand. The 26¼-by-20¼-inch work brought $10,030. Finishing at the same price was a Leslie Thrasher oil on canvas painting titled “Our Platform,” featuring Tom Sawyer atop a Cream of Wheat crate energetically rousing his group of friends to action. Following behind was an H.B. Lachman oil on canvas painting depicting a little girl as she tries to draw Rastus from a picture on her easel. It brought $7,670.
A selection of weathervanes allured collectors with every animal in the barn and some in the wild, totaling 45 lots in all. At the top was a pig, 29 inches long and 18 inches high, that more than doubled its high estimate to bring $9,145. Another pig, a few inches shorter and with a solid head, finished as the fourth highest result in the category at $6,785.
“We have about 10 to 15 consignors that brought us all the weathervanes,” said Fallon. “And one consignor sold 15 of them. I thought the group did very well, we sold them all over the country. Some to major dealers. It seems to be a market that’s pretty stable within reason.”
Right behind it, with just enough wind in its sails to beat the high estimate, was a monumental galleon ship that brought $7,080. It rose 72 inches off the ground on its stand and spanned 61 inches wide. A leaping stag weathervane, attributed to either E.G. Westervelt or J.W. Fiske, with a copper body, cast bronze head, and zinc antlers and ears ran out the door at $6,785. A prancing horse weathervane, cataloged as likely by A.L. Jewell & Co, rode the paddles to $6,195.
“This is probably one of the best period pieces of furniture that we’ve seen in years,” said Fallon before he got underway with bidding on a Thomas Seymour dressing table with a stepped back mirrored top and three drawers, above a four-drawer mahogany base with carved columns. The piece went between estimates at $4,425. Running up behind were two Eighteenth Century maple highboys. The higher of the two was a New Hampshire example from the Dunlop school with a four-drawer top and three-drawer base with a fan carved lower center drawer, which finished at $4,130. The other example, which featured two fan carved center drawers at the top and bottom and stood on cabriole legs, finished at $3,835.
A number of fine and folk art paintings drew interest from the crowd. At $7,375 each were two Micah Williams pastel portraits, one featuring a gentleman and the other a lady with her child on her lap. Also in portraits was a pair of Horace Bundy oil paintings, each featuring a boy wearing proper attire before a tree-lined background. The pair brought $5,900. A 7½-by-11¾-inch 1906 oil on board painting from Ben Austrian featuring five chicks eating a slice of watermelon found a buyer at $6,490, finishing above the high estimate.
While auction houses across the board have seen decreased in-house attendance due to the accessibility of proxy bidding, New Year’s Day sales seem to be immune to the trend, which was encouraging for Fallon and the year ahead.
“I was happy to see the full crowd,” he said.
Copake’s next sale is an unreserved estate auction on February 17. For further information, www.copakeauction.com or 518-329-1142.
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