Published: June 17, 2015
Donald Dunlap said that this was his favorite piece of furniture. The boldly figured tiger maple secretary, one of very few he made, went to a bidder from Hingham, Mass., who had come up specifically for this piece of furniture. There were 17 carved fans and shells. It brought $14,950.
REVIEW AND ONSITE PHOTOS BY RICK RUSSACK
ITEM PHOTOS COURTESY OF WILLIAM A SMITH, INC
PLAINFIELD, N.H. — Memorial Day brought out a crowd for Bill Smith’s Memorial Day sale. The salesroom was packed, folks were standing along the walls and several phone lines were working. Many bidders came to see and consider furniture from the personal collection of Donald Dunlap, one of New Hampshire’s premier cabinetmakers, working in the style of his Eighteenth Century ancestor, Major John Dunlap.
The sale included several lots of estate jewelry, which drew active bidding and strong prices. Early European paintings from the Robbs collection also did well. Smith does not publish a catalog, just a printed list. It does not show estimated prices and the company does not post final prices online. Smith makes a point of informing his customers of these policies and tells his bidders he believes not publishing prices realized gives buyers an advantage, as the price they pay for something is not public information.
For about 40 years, Don Dunlap made furniture in the Scots-Irish tradition. Major John Dunlap’s furniture is considered by many to be among the finest ever produced in New Hampshire. A few years ago, Donald Dunlap closed his furniture shop and recently he and his wife moved into an assisted living facility and he consigned his personal collection of furniture to Smith’s. Dunlap told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that although he had been in the grocery business earlier in his life, he had always planned to make furniture. “I loved working with the wood,” he said. He was always very particular about the woods he used.
Phil Zea, president of Historic Deerfield, made that point in a conversation with Antiques and The Arts Weekly about the pieces in the auction and he emphasized the point in his 1994 book on the Dunlaps, which he co-wrote with Don Dunlap, The Dunlap Cabinetmakers: A Tradition in Craftsmanship. Zea pointed out that some of the pieces in the auction had been pictured in the book. A highboy made by Don Dunlap stands in the rotunda of the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord. Next to it is an original, made by John Dunlap in 1782. The original was refinished in the 1920s and the reproduction has been finished with stains and dyes shown by analysis to have been used on the original. The basket-weave carving of the cornice has been painted green, as it was originally.
The first piece sold of the Dunlap collection was a beautiful tiger maple secretary. Dunlap told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that it was his favorite piece and that he had not made many. It sold for $14,950. Another exceptional piece was a chest-on-chest, also in tiger maple, which brought the same price but from a different buyer.
A matched pair of tiger maple chests-on-frame brought $9,200. A tiger maple bonnet top highboy achieved $6,900, and a flame birch four-drawer chest, illustrated in Zea’s book, also went for $6,900. The purchasers of the tiger maple secretary, Ron and Carol Schram of Hingham, Mass., told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that they had come up specifically to bid on the secretary and that it was the only Dunlap piece they owned. They said they were delighted to have had the opportunity to obtain a premier example of Dunlap’s work. Dunlap said that his was a small shop, with only two other men working for him. Although he used some power tools, all carving and finishing was done by hand. All of his equipment was sold when he closed his shop. This auction truly marked the end of an era.
Smith’s sale had a number of fine pieces of jewelry, which Smith said had come from a Woodstock, Vt., estate. Smith’s descriptions of the jewelry are quite detailed as to type and size of stones, number of carats of gold, etc. He told the audience that all such descriptions were fully guaranteed and that any improperly described pieces could be returned for full refunds.
The jewelry offerings were led by a stunning Oscar Heyman sapphire and diamond bracelet with approximately 29.50 carats of blue marquise sapphires and 10.5 carats of round brilliant-cut diamonds, set in platinum. There was spirited bidding for a bracelet, which finally sold for $32,200. Not far behind the bracelet was a pair of screw-back natural pearl earrings with approximately .30 carats of Old European cut diamonds. It was GIA-certified and achieved $27,600.
Leading the consignment of estate jewelry, an Oscar Heyman sapphire and diamond bracelet finished at a strong $32,200. It had almost 30 carats of blue marquise sapphires and 10.5 carats of round brilliant cut diamonds, set in platinum.
A diamond platinum eternity band set with approximately 5 carats of round brilliant cut diamonds went out for $6,325. An Art Deco platinum bracelet set with diamonds and ruby cabochons fetched $10,062. It had 9 carats of full, single and baguette cut diamonds and about 1.2 carats of rubies.
The highest priced lot of the day was this life-size portrait of George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, who painted several members of the royal family. With a good provenance, it made $40,250.
Paintings from the A.B. Robbs estate did well. Robbs was a founder of the Continental Bank, which he sold to Chase Manhattan in 1986. He apparently liked large European paintings. Bringing the highest price of the day was a life-size portrait of King George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830). An early Twentieth Century catalog of the Wilstach collection, published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, states that the painting is signed, and a Freeman’s catalog from 1954 also says the painting is signed. Smith said the signature is now obscured by years of aging but professional cleaning would probably reveal it. It sold for $40,250. Lawrence was one of the most fashionable painters of his time and did several portraits of members of the royal family.
Another large painting, this one a Parisian fountain scene by Charles Duvent (1867–1940), signed and dated 1892, was the second highest grossing lot of the day, finishing at $36,800. An Old Master painting, “Adoration of the Magi” by Giovanni Discepoli (1590–1660) ended up at $23,000. American paintings also did well. A pastel portrait by Ruth Henshaw Bascom (1772–1848) of Eunice Emeline Connable, Gill, Mass., went out at $18,400. Paintings by Emil Gruppe (1896–1978) drew active bidding. A Florida beach scene sold for $7,188, and a Florida harbor scene, “Cabbage Palms,” earned $5,750. An unsigned painting of a well-dressed woman in a summer landscape with her dog fetched $7,187.
Smith described this as a “metamorphic library table,” The English regency table, with leather top, converts to a set of library steps. The audience in the room liked it too, and it went for $4,025.
Smith had a nice assortment of American and English furniture. An Eighteenth Century Queen Anne tiger maple highboy with fan carved drawers and an old finish went out at $5,750, and a Federal inlaid mahogany serpentine-front sideboard, circa 1790–1800, earned $2,760. A Federal bowfront four-drawer chest with bird’s-eye maple drawer fronts sold for $2,300, and a small Connecticut River Valley Federal secretary with bookcase top, dentil moldings and fluted columns also went out for $2,300. A handsome English satinwood partners’ desk with a tooled leather top brought $4,600, and an unusual English library table, which Smith described as an “English regency mahogany metamorphic library table,” with tooled leather top achieved $4,025. The table opened to create a set of library steps.
It was a well-rounded sale with a variety of other interesting merchandise. There was a large Steinway Model B grand piano with a custom art case and matching bench from the Robbs estate, which fetched $20,700. A large decorated Civil War drum with original paint and an eagle-decorated label of Ernest Vogt, Philadelphia, went for $5,175. A Regina cylinder music box with nine bells and inlaid case brought a reasonable $2,645. Smith made a point of demonstrating that it worked — easier said than done. Two signal cannons achieved $1,840, and a Darktown Battery mechanical bank made $1,495. It was really a sale with something for everyone and the final total for the day was $1,320,000.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 603-675-2549 or www.wsmithauction.com.
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