Published: December 21, 2021
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy John McInnis Auctions
AMESBURY, MASS. – Prior to John McInnis’ December 10-11 sale, the gallery was so packed with early material that you had to be careful where you walked. Not that people couldn’t see it all – you just had to be careful. Gallery director Dan Meader arranged things so that if you were interested in mocha, it was all in one place. The same was true for the dozens of early toys, the three showcases full of delft, the numerous folk art paintings, the Chinese export porcelain, the decoys, the daguerreotypes and other photographica, the firearms, the redware, the Battersea boxes, books and atlases and so on. Early furniture filled the floor, but there was room to examine it carefully – and many did.
The $960,000 sale was live-streamed, multiple phone lines were in use, and absentee bids were processed. There were about 50 bidders in the room on the first day and more than that on the second. Many lots were sold to those in the audience. Numerous lots on both days far exceeded expectations, with painted woodenware selling for prices that had some in the audience scratching their heads. Surprises abounded, including a World War II footlocker, a sign lettered Joseph W. Revere, a red-painted chimney cupboard and a Nineteenth Century portrait of a cat.
By far, the star of the sale, realizing $62,000, was an iron-bound trunk that had been the personal property of Lt. General George S. Patton Jr. The trunk was lettered “Lt. General G.S. Patton Jr,” indicating that it had been used by Patton from 1943, when he was promoted to general, until 1946 when he was killed in an automobile accident. A large press photo of his dog accompanied the trunk, and other family photographs were sold separately. The iron-bound trunk was just under 30 inches long and was stenciled with Patton’s name and rank. The trunk can be seen in the press photograph of his dog, an English bull terrier named William the Conqueror, or Willie, as he was called. After Patton’s death, Willie lived the rest of his life with Patton’s wife and daughters, dying in 1955, and he is buried in an unmarked grave on the family property in Hamilton, Mass. The Patton family and the homestead in Hamilton have seen to it that almost none of the general’s memorabilia has reached the marketplace, definitely adding to the rarity of a trunk like this. This trunk had been used, probably by Patton, at the nearby Myopia Hunt Club. Patton, an avid horseman, was a member of the prestigious hunt club, and sometime after his death the trunk was sold.
An otherwise perfectly ordinary 10-by-48-inch gold lettered black painted sign was a much-publicized item that brought $24,400, many times over the estimate. But it was important because of the name lettered on it: Joseph W. Revere, who was the third of eight children born to Paul Revere and his second wife. Plus, it came with one of those stories that everyone who loves antiques and old houses fantasizes about.
According to the story, the sign, and accompanying items, had been found in the walls of a Canton, Mass., home during renovations. The home was believed to have belonged to the Revere family. According to an article in The Boston Globe, which coincidentally came out the day of the sale, Paul Revere supervised the construction of a gun powder mill in the town, on what is now the Paul Revere Heritage Site. According to Wikipedia, Paul Revere founded the Revere Copper Company and his son, Joseph, worked there and eventually became president of the company. The other objects sold with the sign included tools such as wrought iron calipers, letters and other personal items. There was also an account book belonging to Paul Revere’s descendants
The second day of the sale featured most of the folk art, painted furniture and painted accessories. The first lot of the day was a two-door, Eighteenth Century chimney cupboard with old red paint, snipe hinges and a stepped molding. It was an indication of the strong interest in original paint, as it sold for $28,520, more than three times the estimate. That interest in paint continued as a couple of minutes later a fancy painted dome top box with red and yellow swags on a black ground sold for $4,340 to a buyer who left immediately after the purchase. A few minutes later, a two-door hanging cupboard with two six-pane glass doors and the original yellow wash went out for $1,984, followed by a forest green sponge decorated poplar sewing box that sold for $2,108. Each of these results were many times over the estimates, and the trend continued as early, original paint-decorated firkins, storage boxes, knife boxes and the like brought multiples of the estimates.
Expected to be one of the stars of the sale and leading its second day was a rare double portrait watercolor by Joseph Davis (1811-1865). Identified by Davis as “Painted at Farmington August 1835,” it depicted Amasu Jones, age 31, and Maria L. Jones, age 31. It had Davis’ typical floral carpet or floor cloth, a swag on the wall, and the husband and wife were facing one another with a paint-decorated table in between. It retained the original pressed brass frame and lived up to its expectations, finishing at $43,400. Davis was active for only about five years, 1832-1837, and most of his subjects lived in Maine and New Hampshire. It’s believed that only about 150 paintings were produced. Folk art historians Arthur and Sybil Kern eventually documented the artist as a local farmer known as “Pine Hill Joe” of Limington, Maine. His works are in numerous museums.
Another major piece of folk art was a heavily carved outer side panel of a carousel chariot from the “Rough Riders” carousel at the Revere Beach amusement park, which was in operation until the 1930s. Carved by Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein of Brooklyn, N.Y., circa 1914, it sold for $19,840.
Several lots on both days had strong local interest, and the Museum of Old Newbury was able to acquire several items. Perhaps the most important was a 50-60-page, handwritten journal of the “Proprietors Of 1st & 2nd Pastures Newbury, Mass.,” with entries dating from 1714 to 1786, which sold for $2,852. Written in a legible hand, it details a little-known facet of rural village life, documenting the sharing and use of common pasture lands in the town. According to Bethany Groff Dorau, executive director of the museum, the journal, while primarily devoted to the agricultural history of the community, includes a great deal of other information about daily life, such as people’s relationships with their neighbors, seating in the meeting house, etc.
The museum also purchased a sampler of local interest, a 1787 alphabet sampler believed to be from Newburyport, embellished with lions, parrots, flowers and more, which earned $465. Dorau said she wanted that sampler to add to the museum’s extensive collection of local samplers. “We know a lot about the girls who made these and the schools they attended,” she said. “I hope that we’ll be able to publish a book on the collection. I think people will be surprised at its scope.” The museum will also be the home of a 1983 replica weathervane of the angel Gabriel, that had been on the People’s Methodist Church of Newburyport. It sold for $4,880 to a local gentleman who believes “it should be saved for the community” and will be on loan to the museum.
The local material included several pieces of redware, much of which sold well over the estimates, and most of it was bought by one local collector. Justin Thomas, redware scholar and author of several books on redware, especially that which was made in New England, said, “The prices were incredibly strong. There was a creamer and porringer possibly made by John Henry Benner (1728-1796) in Abington, Mass., before 1795, which sold for $2,790. Other exceptional pieces included some pieces manufactured in Essex County and Bristol County, Mass. An Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century jug, 10½ inches tall, probably from coastal Massachusetts sold for $4,650. My personal favorite, maybe because it’s illustrated in one of my books, was a colorful 5-inch-tall Nineteenth Century slip decorated pitcher, which sold for $2,790. Overall, it really was a good selection.” The collector who bought most of it, and who left just after the redware was sold, said, “I usually buy earlier pieces, but this group was nearly all local, and my wife and I decided that we should have it.”
The selection of paintings, other than the Davis watercolor, was topped by “Seining at Sunrise” by Charles H. Gifford (1839-1904). He was a marine artist born in Fairhaven, Mass., best known for quiet, luminist landscapes, such as this one, which earned $18,600. An oil by Emile Gruppe (1896-1978), depicting the Liberty, docked at Gloucester, earned $9,920. A Liverpool school oil painting of the three-masted sailing vessel Huguenot in rough seas, painted about 1847, realized $7,440.
This was a strong sale, and a visit to McInnis’ website will show many more interesting items. A few days after the sale, John McInnis commented, “What really struck me was the enthusiasm I saw. The number of people at the preview, especially the second day, was something we haven’t seen for a while. Life is returning to normal. We did more than $960,000, so no complaints there. And people obviously knew what they wanted. Some came determined to buy certain things and they did. Looking forward to the next one.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.mcinnisauctions.com or 978-388-0400.
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