Published: February 25, 2020
Review and Photos by Greg Smith
MEDWAY, MASS. – Close to 100 people filled the VFW hall in Medway, Mass., as Coyle’s Auction presented its February 18 sale. About 60 percent of the 400 lots in the estate auction came out of a home in Milton, Mass., many of them reflecting a Victorian style of decorating. The owner had passed away four decades prior but the estate was left untouched. Other lots were added from homes in Chestnut Hill, Dover and Wellesley. They amounted to a sale of fine antique furniture, porcelain and china, artwork, bronzes, silver, Oriental rugs and more.
The sale was split into two parts, and all of it went unreserved.
“We’re a fun auction,” auctioneer Michael Coyle told us. “People like to come, no reserves and things just sell.”
As Coyle’s does not operate on any internet platform, that held true.
Among other things, the sale’s first session sold a collection of antique glass photo negative slides that documented life in Massachusetts from 1905 to 1915. The collection included more than 1,400 slides, most of which came inside original sleeves with written descriptions on them from the photographer. A number of photos were focused on domestic life of the Wales family, which led Coyle’s vice president Nancy Wyman down a trail to the photographer Nathan Wales (1886-1965).
Wales lived on Summer Street in Franklin, Mass., and in addition to photographing family and transportation scenes, he focused his lens on commercial projects. Wales took images of the Whiting and Davis factory in Plainville, Mass., the company that has produced metal mesh purses since 1876. Included among the 1,400 others were images of a cranberry production site in Marston Mills, the LakeView Trolley in Foxboro, a portrait of a Sheldonville blacksmith and the steamship wharf in Oak Bluffs.
Mary Olsson, chairperson for the Franklin Historical Commission, put forward a successful $460 bid on a lot of 600 slides that centered on the town of Franklin. “We’re going to find out all we can about [Wales],” she told Antiques and The Arts Weekly the night of the sale. Olsson said that the Historical Commission is in possession of postcards dating to this same period in Franklin, and on first glance they were able to match at least half a dozen postcards to the negatives they purchased at the auction.
Shortly after the sale ended, the commission was able to locate Wales in two directories, one in 1917 where he listed his occupation as a gardener for C.A. Whiting, the owner of the purse company; and another in 1919 where he listed himself as a photographer and postcard maker. In that second directory, Wales’ advertisement reads: “Nathan S. Wales / Postal Card Photography / Developing and Printing for / Amateurs Promptly attended to / Postal Cards of Residences a Specialty / 99 Summer Street, Franklin.”
Historical societies from the other towns were also present and successful in their bidding, as were private collectors and dealers. Divided into lots by town, the 111 glass negatives for Marstons Mills took $345; 103 negatives for Oak Bluffs, $345; 44 negatives for Medway, $173; 74 negatives for Upton, $288; 34 negatives for St Johns, $230; 125 negatives for Bellingham/Carterville, $518; 152 negatives for Wrentham, $460; 48 negatives for Sheldonville, $259; 31 negatives for Foxboro, $288; 19 negatives for Milford, $144; and 89 negatives for Plainville, $546. Some of these villages later became boroughs of broader towns.
Nancy Wyman, who did the bulk of the research on the slides, said, “It was so interesting to see what the old shops in the various towns, particularly in Franklin – I live in Franklin – looked like. I did not realize how many types of shops they had or how they would prepare for celebrations. I drive by these places all the time and now I know what was there. I’m happy they are going back to the towns, I think that’s important. It doesn’t appear that anyone knew about Wales before, so it became about restoring the history there.”
The sale’s top lot was found in a heavily carved Asian export console table with a rouge marble inset top that sold for $7,820 to a bidder on the floor. The skirt was carved with foliate and protruding flowers with a central image of a bird.
Bronzes also did well. The category was led by a $3,910 result for a 22½-inch-tall bust of George Washington signed Barbedienne. The dealer that bought it said he thought it might be a posthumous cast. Behind at $2,646 was a similar size bronze bust of a woman signed Danezan Paris, which was also bought by the trade. An Asian bronze tiger measuring 15 inches long took a solid $2,415.
Paintings attracted the highest total of any category. At the top here was a 19-by-15-inch oil on canvas of a woman looking down at a koi pond amid a magnificent garden with columns and large-scale classical sculpture, signed E. Niczky 1883, presumably Eduard Niczky (German, 1850-1919), that sold for $6,210. Following behind at $5,290 was a pastoral 18-by-24-inch oil on board signed by Eugene Verboeckhoven (Belgian, 1799-1881) featuring sheep, a favored subject of the painter and one he has become known for. A scene with cows signed Em. Van Mancke in a Foster Bros frame went out at $2,875.
Bidders were attracted to the silver offerings that came in various forms, from group lots to individual items. An .800 silver candelabra surprised the room when bidding started at $200 and settled at $2,300. A hotly contested 196-piece sterling silver flatware service by Wallace in the Grand Baroque pattern sold for $4,715. Not far behind that was the dealer special, a miscellaneous lot of sterling including plates, candlesticks and trays, that brought $3,795.
“We were happy with the whole sale,” Wyman said. “It was well-attended and we thought the prices were very strong, especially on the paintings, bronzes and the Asian items. We are seeing a little bit of an uptick with people getting interested – getting a few more younger people to realize it’s a good way to buy and learn. And even some of the retired dealers are starting to come back into the business, which is great. Some people we haven’t seen for some time.”
All prices include buyer’s premium. For more information, www.coylesauction.com.
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