Published: December 5, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
THOMASTON, MAINE – The three-day sale, November 17-19 at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries offered about 1,400 lots and grossed slightly over $1.5 million with some unsold lots selling the next day after the sale. Paintings led the sale with an unsigned Gilbert Stuart portrait bringing more than $76,000, including buyer’s premium, a cast iron weathervane earning more than $17,000, a Patek Phillipe watch bringing more than $19,000 and a Russian silver and cloisonné enameled kovsch finishing at $23,400. In between these items, there was a large selection of paintings, American and European furniture, silver, glass, toys, Asian items, ethnographic material and more. One of the ethnographic lots, a rare Hawaiian royal necklace, brought one of the higher prices of the sale and finished at $25,740, surprising even the auctioneer.
The entire first day of the sale, 550 lots, was sold without reserve. There was an unusually large crowd in the sales room, internet bidding was available on three platforms, and there were numerous active phone lines and absentee bids.
The 550 lots sold on the first day came from the estate of Richard Thompson and the inventory and collection of Richard French, both of Wiscasset. According to Jim Van Dyke, who knew both men well and who worked for French at one time, after Thompson’s recent death, French decided to sell his home and inventory but remain in Wiscasset. Originally from New Orleans, French and his parents had summered in Wiscasset; after hurricane Katrina, French decided to move to Wiscasset permanently and opened his shop in 2006 or 2007.
These two collections included numerous Twentieth Century French paintings, European furniture, a variety of items converted to lighting devices and Asian items. One of the interesting items in this portion of the sale was an Eighteenth Century chinoiserie decorated tall clock case. It had a silver and brass dial marked Stephen Rimbault, London, but was lacking works. Rimbault was active in the late Eighteenth Century in London; the case sold for $1,989.
Topping the three-day sale by finishing at $76,050 on the second day was a portrait of a well-dressed young gentleman, cataloged as an unsigned Gilbert Stuart ($80/120,000), which went to private buyers in Boston. It had once been in the collection of Andrew Carnegie’s lifelong personal secretary, Robert A. Franks. Auctioneer Kaja Veilleux later said he told the consignor that he was confident he could get a better price than a New York auction house had estimated, and the consignor decided to have him sell the painting.
Folk art offerings included two rare cast iron rooster weathervanes, both attributed to the Rochester Iron Works, from the same or nearly identical molds. Each originally had fancy, cut tin tails. One of these two had a replaced tail of well-carved and painted wood, and that one sold for $17,550 to an internet bidder. The second one, with the original tail, did not sell. A copper running fox weathervane with cast iron directionals sold after the sale for $4,680, while a Cushing and White cow weathervane with a cast iron head and applied copper horns (one of which was missing) earned $1,755. Early furniture included an unusual green painted pine blanket chest from northern New England or Canada, which went for $2,106.
One of the more interesting pieces of furniture was a custom-made Chippendale-style block front secretary which sold for $16,380. It had been built in the John Brown shipyard in Warren, R.I., circa 1840-60. It was a characteristic Rhode Island-form bonnet top piece, constructed of solid, figured mahogany. The interesting feature was that all the pieces were marked so that the piece could be knocked down, loaded on a ship and reassembled when it reached its destination.
Thomaston Place attributes its success with ancient artifacts and ethnographic materials to the fact that the material they sell is guaranteed to be as described, that buyers have thirty days to return the item if the auction house is in error. The success of one of the items in this sale may be partly attributable to that policy. Selling for $25,740, more than eight times its estimate, was a rare Nineteenth Century Hawaiian royal necklace, consisting of an ivory hook, with woven hair and olona fiber. Necklaces of this type were considered a status symbol, worn by both men and women and were made from finely woven human hair and a sperm whale tooth carved into a hook form. Similar ceremonial carvings are found on other Polynesian islands.
Other ethnographic material also did well, including carved African masks, carved African figures and native American items. A circa 1900 Navajo Yei-Bi-Chei rug with a sand field, black brown border and figures in tan, orange, crimson and turquoise sold for $4,095. A Pre-Columbian jaguar effigy tripod jar with rattle supports, dating to 1200-1400 AD, from the Nicoya Peninsula of the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica, realized $2,925.
The third day of the sale included Twentieth Century material, including two signed untitled oils by Willem De Kooning (1904-1997). One brought $16,380 and the other brought $9,945. An untitled work by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), initialed and dated ’71, sold well over the estimate, reaching $3,803. Two earthenware plates with designs by Pablo Picasso did well. “Picador 1952” finished at $3,218 and “Bouquet a la Pomme,” dated 1956, finished at $3,803. Danish modern furniture included a set of four 1960s “safari chairs” designed by Kaare Klint in the 1930s for Rud. Rasmussen reached $936.
The day after the sale, Veilleux said, “The sale was like a roller coaster. I was surprised at the way some of the custom-made furniture brought more than early furniture. On Sunday we sold a set of four custom-made Windsor armchairs (made by James Brown of Lincolnville, Maine) for more than $3,500. Period ones bring less. The same was true of some of the custom-made Oriental rugs. The Twentieth Century pieces did well. One of the surprises was the Hawaiian necklace and I was generally pleased with the paintings. We often spend a lot of money getting paintings ready for sale. One of the things that works well for us is that nearly everything we sell is clean and ready to go in a house. If a painting needs cleaning, we have it cleaned. If it needs reframing, we do it.
“A large portion of our business is with retail buyers who don’t have the time to get stuff fixed, and they usually don’t know who can do good repair work. From the day John (Bottero) and I started this business, we knew it would be important for us to go out of our way for the retail buyers. I was also surprised with the two cast iron weathervanes. The one with the restored tail did very well but the one with the original tail didn’t sell. Maybe it will next time. We did more than a million and half dollars, and I think the diversity of the things we’re offering, along with our guarantee, is what makes these sales successful.”
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.thomastonauction.com or 207-354-8141.
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