Published: March 24, 2020
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy CRN Auctions
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – Antiques dealers and collectors, judging by the “live” crowd at CRN’s March 15 sale, are a hardy and optimistic group. Turnout for the sale was about the same as it usually has been. Although Carl Nordblom and his partner Karin Phillips set up the seating with the recommended 6-foot separation, buyers moved additional chairs into the area, doing away with the recommended separation. It’s likely that this will have been the last sale with live buyers for the foreseeable future. The impact on the business will be substantial. During the preview, a couple of days before the sale, Nordblom said that some of his clients who normally go after American furniture had called him, saying that they would not be bidding because of show cancellations. He also expected that overseas travel and delivery restrictions would make it impossible for some to preview material and might impact shipping to Europe and Asia.
But those were concerns for the future. As for this sale, it was, more or less, business as usual. The sale grossed more than $600,000, with – unusual for Nordblom – nine of the ten highest priced items having been made somewhere other than this country. The top lot of the sale, bought by a bidder in the room, was a pair of Eighteenth Century Chinese armchairs. Bringing $96,000, well over the estimate, the pair of huanghuali Qing dynasty armchairs with horseshoe-shaped backs, chilong carved splats, straight legs with stretchers and woven seats interested numerous bidders. A Chinese hardwood side table with applied Greek key decoration also exceeded its estimate, finishing at $2,280, and a Chinese carved and ebonized hardwood etagere also exceeded the estimate, finishing at $1,440.
The second highest price for a piece of furniture was achieved by an Irish George II marble top table carved with a scrolling acanthus leaf on its gadrooned apron, acanthus carved knees and ball and claw feet. It ended up at $16,800. An Indo-Portuguese walnut and ebony inlaid cabinet, probably originating in Goa, was the third highest priced piece of furniture in the sale. It had multiple drawers with pierced brass hardware, overall ebony floral inlay and the legs were carved in the form of mermaids. It was a small size that could easily fit into most homes and sold for $15,600 to one of six phone bidders.
Buyers reacted positively to most of the Boston furniture. A Boston or Salem oxbow four-drawer chest, cataloged as having connections to the Kennedy family, led the category, selling for $9,000. It had belonged to the Duchess of Devonshire, sister-in-law of Kathleen Kennedy, JFK’s favorite sister, and was probably left to the duchess by Kathleen, who would have been the duchess had her husband, heir to the title, not been killed in World War II. Her wedding to the likely future duke was opposed by her parents, Joe and Rose Kennedy, because he was a Protestant, and the only Kennedy at her wedding was her oldest brother Joe. Kathleen and her married lover were later killed in a plane crash in 1948, and she bequeathed some of her belongings to the duchess.
Even without the Kennedy connection, bringing $7,200, more than twice its estimate, was a Boston Chippendale oxbow desk, mahogany with a stepped and blocked interior, on well-carved ball and claw feet. Bringing nearly six times the estimate and surprising the auctioneer was a paint decorated Seymour card table with original surface and a painted lyre. It was disassembled and in need of repair, but still sold for $4,500 against an estimate, based on condition, of $700. At the other extreme was a shell-carved New England cherry highboy, which brought $900, causing Nordblom to comment, “I don’t think I’ve ever sold one that low.”
CRN sales generally start with a selection of paintings -American and others. This sale began with a selection of original American illustration art for midcentury books and maps. Achieving $2,400 was a western-themed illustration by Frank McCarthy (1924-2002). It had been done for a 1952 Signet paperback book, The Big Dry, and depicted a wounded cowboy on horseback. Another interesting lot was an illustration for a 1961 Esso map and visitors guide to Washington, DC. It showed a father and daughter at the National Gallery. Painted by Howard Terpining (b 1927), it was accompanied by a letter from the artist to the collector that stated, “The illustration you own was done by me in 1960. I did a whole series of maps for Esso that year…” The painting sold for $900. An American painting by Roy Martell Mason (1886-1972), appropriate to this time of year, exceeded its estimate, finishing at $2,400. A faded pencil inscription on the back in the artist’s hand reads: “April 5, 1930/Joe Burke’s Sugar Camp.”
As with other categories in the sale, European and Asian paintings did well. Topping the selection was a Seventeenth Century Flemish portrait of an unidentified young man attributed to Jacob Ferdinand Voet (1639-1689), which sold for $6,600. The painter settled in Italy in 1633 and was regarded as one of the foremost portrait painters of the time. Two paintings by a prominent Nineteenth Century Siamese painter also did well. One, bringing $5,000, was an oil on canvas scene of a countryside landscape with an old stone rampart. It had an original label on the back stating “Siamese International Exhibition/H.H. Prince Pravich Choomsai/Painter and sculptor to His Majesty/The King Of Siam/Bangkok 24th July 1882.” The Siamese 1882 exhibition, lasting 100 days, celebrated the 100th year of the establishment of Bangkok as the capitol of Siam. Its companion painting, a village dwelling with men at work, bore the same labeling and sold for $2,760. Both were elaborately framed in matching wooden frames with tiny inlaid pieces of glass.
The sale included part four of a collection of colonial Spanish silver artifacts. The collection was assembled by a gentleman who lived in South and Central America for more than 30 years while working for the United States government. The objects date from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, and CRN’s description are thorough. Finishing at $10,200, a pair of Guatemalan rococo candlesticks, about 9 inches tall, circa 1770, bore marks indicating they had been made in Antigua and bore the assayer’s mark as well. Also from Guatemala, and made a few years later, was a turkey-form, incised morro nut with applied silver turkey components, standing on rectangular silver base with ball feet. The initials JC and WH carved in the nut under the hinge of the lift-up lid indicate that this was a marriage money box. It was more than 12 inches tall. Morro nuts are sometimes with coconuts but are native to South and Central America. It finished at $6,600.
Another particularly attractive piece was a silver-clad portable vargueno, possibly made in Mexico during the late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Centuries. The slanted lid when raised reveals an interior fitted with five mother-of-pearl inlaid drawers and writing surface. The drawer, the lid, the sides and the back had finely chased silver designs of both European and indigenous hunt scenes, likely based on Sixteenth or Seventeenth Century lithographs. It retained red velvet backing, original latch, a large reticulated key and realized $6,600. There were more than two dozen additional pieces.
A few days after the sale, Nordblom said that he was surprised at the number of bidders in the room. “I thought the virus warnings would thin the crowd. But it didn’t, and buyers in the room bought plenty of things. The $600,000 gross was fine, and a lot of stuff exceeded our estimates. Some categories did better than others. The Spanish silver prices were fine, and the European furniture did well. The Asian material provided some of the highest prices of the sale, but the paintings, which normally do well, were mixed. And American furniture? I wish I knew the answer for that. I can’t remember selling a good Queen Anne highboy as low as I did this time. But most of that furniture did well, again, with most of it bringing more than we thought it would. That’s why they call it an auction.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For more information, 617-661-9582 or www.crnauctions.com.
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