Published: February 8, 2011
“It is a magical time to be a decoy collector. It is a buyer’s market, like we had in the 1970s, but there is one enormous difference. In the 1970s, there were just a dozen or so books written on the subject of decoy collecting,” noted Stephen O’Brien Jr, chairman of Boston-based Copley Fine Arts Auctions. Now there are many more references and many collectors.
Copley’s first winter sale, held at Wallace Hall of St Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue at 84th Street, on Monday, January 17, proved that, buyer’s market or not, bidders are unpredictable. The 430-lot session saw active bidding on decoys and other items with crossover appeal to folk art collectors. There was reluctance among buyers of sporting-themed paintings and prints, who passed on desirable works by well-known artists. Total sales surpassed low estimate to reach $1,554,972, including premium.
Leading off Antiques Week in New York, Copley shared space at Wallace Hall with Keno Auctions, whose Americana sale was planned for the following day. O’Brien and Leigh Keno hosted a joint preview reception, treating 500-plus guests to single-malt Scotch and smoked salmon from New Brunswick, Canada. Players on the New England antiques scene lent a hand. Massachusetts auctioneers Michael Grogan and Peter Coccoluto called the sale, while New Hampshire dealer Hercules Pappachristos was among those helping on the phones.
Decoys & Folk Art
Twelve-year-old Michael Dinan held his paddle high to win a 36½-inch half-carving of a right whale by Vermont artist and sometimes picker Clark Voorhees, son of the Old Lyme, Conn., painter of the same name, for $4,600. Michael and his father were inspecting Keno’s offerings when they found the whale, which will decorate Michael’s room in Nantucket.
A small sperm whale, 17½ inches long, incised with the initials “CV” and with original paint and reset tail, fetched $2,070. A large, 35-inch sperm whale half-carving went for $11,500. Voorhees sold many of his carvings through the Four Winds Craft Guild on Nantucket. Voorhees’ whale carvings are the subject of an article by Kevin Tulimieri in the January/February 2011 issue of The Magazine Antiques .
I was shocked at how well the decoys did. The top ten estimated lots all sold at or above estimate. Additionally, the decoys brought in new buyers. Did Americana Week make a difference? “Probably,” O’Brien told Antiques and The Arts Weekly .
After disappointing results at his summer sales, O’Brien was pleased with the robust performance of pieces by A. Elmer Crowell of East Harwich, Mass. The blue-chip carvings included a pair of circa 1905 goldeneyes from a rig ordered by John Ware Willard, $109,250; a circa 1915 Hudsonian curlew with Crowell’s oval brand, $74,740; a golden plover mantel carving of about 1915, $48,875; and a running black-bellied plover of about 1910, $37,375.
The sale’s top lot was a hollow, feeding stick-up Canada goose decoy made around 1917 by John Tax of Minnesota. It sold to a phone bidder for $115,000.
Found several decades ago in an antiques shop in Pennsylvania, a mallard drake by Joseph W. Lincoln of Accord, Mass., went for $86,250 to a collector who said he was bidding for a friend.
A Memphis, Tenn., collector acquired a canvasback drake made around 1890 by Lee Dudley of Knott’s Island, N.C., for $80,500.
A canvasback drake by Ferdinand Bach of Detroit sold for $23,000, while a preening black duck by Albert Laing, Stratford, Conn., circa 1870, passed at $15,000.
Fine arts met with resistance as paintings by Tait, Benson, Sloane, Ripley, Pleissner, Rousseau and Foster failed to meet their reserves.
“I was disappointed that the cover lot, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait’s ‘Guarding the Catch’ of 1850, was bought in, but we think we have it sold privately,” said O’Brien, who was nearing agreement with a buyer the day after the auction.
O’Brien added that the Tait, which was estimated at $125/175,000, was “appropriately reserved, but the market is fickle.”
Frank W. Benson’s luminous watercolor “Western Bay,” depicting a great blue heron fishing on Maine’s rocky coast, failed to sell at $30/50,000.
“Benson watercolors have been down a bit. Any good Benson watercolor used to draw between $75,000 and $100,000. They now sell between $25,000 and $50,000,” said O’Brien.
Topping sales of paintings were “The Shore Line,” a tropical oil on canvas by Ogden Pleissner, $48,875, and Pleissner’s watercolor “The Orchard Cover,” a winter hunting scene, $46,000. Fifteen Federal duck stamps and the prints that inspired them by artists ranging from “Ding” Darling to Frank W. Benson and Aiden Lassell Ripley made high estimate, $28,750. Harry Curieux Adamson’s oil on canvas “Mallards” garnered $20,7000.
Good buys included George Browne’s oil on canvas “Grouse,” $16,100, and Aiden Lassell Ripley’s “Grouse Budding,” $14,950.
“We will be back here next year. It is the perfect spot: an open, airy space with great lighting,” said O’Brien.
Copley Fine Art’s next auction is planned for July 21′2 at the Radisson Hotel in Plymouth, Mass.
For information, 617-536-0030 or www.copleyart.com .
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