A diverse and interesting selection of sporting art, decorative bird carvings and decoys was offered by Copley Fine Art during the first of the annual New England summer auctions devoted to the waterfowl collecting arena. The sales took place over a ten-day period between July 25 and August 3 with record setting prices established by Copley in both the sporting art and the decorative carvings marketplaces.
Stephen O’Brien Jr, Copley’s CEO, likes to be the first in the line-up of the four major waterfowl auctions, opening up for business on Wednesday, July 25, with a decoy show and an evening preview for the auction. O’Brien commented that he was pleased with the record prices established and the other surprisingly strong prices posted throughout the day. This is just the second auction to have been conducted by the firm.
Having begun its auction career in Boston last year, Copley headed south to Plymouth for this season’s event †a friendlier location situated just about halfway between Boston and the Cape, and most importantly away from the hustle and bustle and the traffic nightmares associated with Beantown.
“People seem to like it here,” stated O’Brien of the touristy but quaint and fairly quiet area. There is lots to do in “America’s Hometown” ranging from visiting Plimouth Plantation, the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock, to sport fishing charter trips and dining out at great restaurants.
As the auction room opened the morning of the sale, a huge crowd filed in and quickly claimed all of the chairs that were set out. With approximately 75 people still standing in the rear of the gallery, O’Brien arranged for an additional 100 chairs to be set up in the room and there were still people standing in the back of the hall and in the doorways.
The auction featured numerous prestigious collections including the decoy and folk art collection of Peter Brams, the coveted ruddy turnstone shorebird collection of Gary Giberson, a private Little Compton, R.I., collection of carvings by A.E. Crowell, a superb private sporting art collection from Pennsylvania, and the sporting library of Asa B. Allen.
It was widely rumored that records would topple throughout the day as all of the top players were on hand and there seemed to be something in the selection to satisfy nearly everyone.
The auction began with a selection of contemporary decorative decoy carvings with pieces by Mark McNair, Bill Gibian and James Hand doing well. The first of the antique birds to attract serious interest was a challenge grade Mason Factory coot. The rare decoy was actively bid by several in the gallery with it selling to Rye, N.H., decoy dealer, Americana expert and the acknowledged Mason decoy author and expert, Russ Goldberger for $3,680.
A Mason factory dove in original paint, circa 1915, also attracted quite a bit of interest with bidding opening at the low estimate of $2,000 and bouncing back and forth between two determined bidders in the room with it selling to Connecticut dealer and Mason author Allan Haid for $5,520.
The decorative carvings of Elmer Crowell continue to be one of the hottest things selling these days in the waterfowl and Americana collecting market. Every time a prime example comes out †strong or record prices are established. Such was the case at Copley as an exceptional and extremely rare running curlew was among the offering. Consigned from a private collection, the carving had been acquired directly from the carver by the consignor’s father, who hunted with Crowell and George Flynn, the largest landowner on Martha’s Vineyard.
“People who know what good ones are, are going to be bidding on this one,” commented one seasoned collector during preview and several concurred that it was the best Crowell that they had ever seen. O’Brien concurred, cataloging the lot as “without question one of Crowell’s finest carvings known to exist.”
Everyone took the time to inspect the lot, carved in a bold running position, it measured more than 17 inches from the tip of the bill to the end of the tail feathers. The paint was described in the catalog as the “finest” with “terrific feather detail and blending. The primary tips are recess-carved in the same manner as the famous ‘dust jacket’ plovers& characteristic only seen on Crowell’s earliest carvings.” The brand that the carving was marked with was purchased by Crowell in 1912 and Crowell historian Gigi Hopkins called the mark, “one of the earliest strikes of this brand she has ever seen.”
The curlew was carved during what has been termed Crowell’s “magical period” when he was transitioning between his early working detail style and a detailed decorative style that he developed to show off his talents to patrons.
Conservatively estimated at $60/80,000, the lot opened for bidding at $40,000 and several in the room got in on the action as the bids advanced rapidly in $5,000 increments. A bidder standing in the doorway battled with Cape dealer Ted Harmon, also standing in the rear of the room and representing a client via a cell phone, to $125,000 where the bidder in the room dropped out. One of several telephone bidders was quick to jump in and the two battled until Harmon relented with the curlew selling for $186,500, a record price paid at auction for a Crowell decorative carving.
The following lot was also touted by Copley as “unequivocally one of the finest Crowell carvings” to have ever been offered for sale, although this distinction was made for an upland bird carving. The rare life-sized carving with well delineated primaries, dropped wings and uplifted tail was superbly painted with subtle feather blending. The woodcock opened for bidding at $30,000 with Harmon once again hitting the lot. A buyer in the room banged away at it, as did another phone bidder, although Harmon’s client was not to be outdone this time as he bought the lot for $66,125.
Decoys by Joseph Lincoln brought good prices throughout the day with a brant, circa 1915, handily exceeding the $15/20,000 presale estimates. Cataloged as in “untouched estate-found condition with great head attitude, incised bill, nostril and mandible carving,” it was thought to be “one of the finest Lincoln brant decoys to come on the market in some time.” Acquired by the consignor’s family from Alvin White of Sandwich, Mass., who was considered to be the dean of American gun engravers, the decoy had never been publicly offered for sale. Bidding on the lot was active with it selling at $48,300.
A pair of Dave “Umbrella” Watson geese, circa 1900, were cataloged by Copley as “not only two of the very best Watson geese known to exist, but also the only matched pair that we know of to have ever come to market.” The rare pair of decoys had come from a collection in Georgia and had been broken up many years ago as the original owner had presented one to his daughter and the other to a grand-daughter. Retaining the majority of their original paint with in-use touch-up, the decoys were described as a “superb pair of museum quality Virginia gunning decoys.” Bidding on the lot opened at $20,000 with it hammering down at $44,850, also selling to Harmon’s client.
Working decoys by Crowell included a goose that attracted its fair share of attention selling at $20,700, a mallard drake realized $13,225, and a swimming merganser brought $13,800.
Another working decoy to do well was a wood duck, possibly unique, carved and painted by Orel LeBoeuf, SWt Anicet, QB, that sold well above estimates at $25,300.
Shorebirds continued to attract serious attention with an early ruddy turnstone from Plum Island, Mass, circa 1880, leading the way. With great paint and an unusual two-piece inlet head construction, it was one of many items consigned from the Brams collection. By an unknown maker, this decoy and a yellowlegs were cataloged as the only two known examples to come to market by the maker. Bidding on the lot opened at $20,000 with it selling above estimates at $37,950. The yellowlegs was offered as the following lot and it sold very reasonably at $10,350.
A black-bellied plover by Long Island carver Obediah Verity, also from the Brams collection, was actively bid with it selling at $35,650.
Ruddy turnstone shorebirds from the Giberson collection also attracted interest with an example by New Jersey carver John Horne selling at $14,950, while an early, circa 1880, turnstone from the Mackey collection realized $28,750.
Sporting art also commanded strong prices with a Frank Benson watercolor with gouache that had been consigned just prior to the auction claiming the top spot. O’Brien confirmed that it had been consigned directly from the original owner’s descendant and that it had two Museum of Fine Arts exhibition labels on the back of it. Depicting seagulls in surf, the rare piece sold for $153,500.
Another Benson, a watercolor titled “Flight of Egrets,” also did well selling at $99,000.
While they did not garner the highest prices of the day, the Lynn Bogue Hunt paintings in the sale established record prices paid at auction. “Blue-Fin Tuna,” an oil on canvas depicting a large fish breaking through a cresting wave and about to strike a lure cast from a boat in the background, attracted a great deal of interest. From a private collection in Texas, the painting was estimated at $15/20,000, yet when bidding had subsided, it garnered a record price of $126,000.
A record price paid for a Lynn Bogue Hunt gouache was also established when a rare painting executed for a Remington calendar was offered. The piece depicted a covey of bobwhite quail rising from the edge of a cornfield with an English Setter on point behind them. Cataloged as “one of the most reproduced sporting images of all time,” the rare painting sold at $92,000.
A set of 12 chromolithographs by Arthur Burdett Frost, printed by Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1895, titled “Shooting Pictures” soared past the $8/12,000 presale estimates bringing $63,250, while a rare Currier and Ives hand colored lithograph titled “The Life of a Hunter, A Tight Fix” sold at $40,250.
Two watercolors by Aiden Lassell Ripley also did well with “Rising Woodcock” selling at $41,400, while a scene with two upland hunters went for $24,150.
The sporting library of Asa B. Allen was the last group of material to be offered, consisting mostly of books, although a few framed fishing flies founds their way into the sale. The top lot came as an unpublished book of colors, yarns, wools, herls and quills, number seven of an edition of ten, titled The Leisingring Color & Materials Book for Fly Tying , 1965, was offered. By James Leisenring and Vernon Hiddy, the lot was accompanied by some correspondence between the two. Bidding on the lot was heated with it selling for $17,825.
A Book of Small Flies by Harrop, Rene, Poul Jorgensen, Eric Leiser, John Merwin, S.A. Neff Jr, and Ernest Schwiebert, Arlington, Vt.: Isaac Oelgart, volumes one and two, did well at $3,450, and A Book on Heckles for Fly Dressing by W. Baigent sold at $3,795.
Prices include the 15 percent buyer’s premium charged. For information, 617-536-0030 or www.copleyart.com.