Published: June 22, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Brunk Auctions
ASHEVILLE N.C. – “It was a classic, great old estate, with lots of old things collected a long time ago, with ‘goodies’ left in place and treasures spread throughout that were of great quality and fresh to the market,” Andrew Brunk said of the “Stepping Stones” estate of Karin and T. Kenneth Ellis, the son of E.F. Hutton co-founder George A. Ellis. The rambling estate in Hot Springs, Va., included multiple outbuildings, barns and stables in addition to a Tudor-style mansion, all full of things assembled over several generations of Ellis family members and from which Brunk and his team culled 284 lots of furniture, fine and decorative art, garden statuary and jewelry. Achieving just shy of $1 million – $994,586 to be exact – the June 11 sale surpassed its $437,050/675,200 low/high estimate range, with 94 percent of the lots finding buyers.
“All the good things saw tons of competition and we were thrilled. We had a great response to the jewelry and even though we don’t have a live audience yet, there was life in the room through the spirited bidding we had,” Brunk continued.
“It’s not a record but a very strong showing and we were thrilled with that result,” Brunk remarked on a bronze sculpture of a buffalo done in 1900 by Henry Merwin Shrady (New York, 1871-1922) that was the top lot in the sale. The casting was attributed to the Roman Bronze Works of New York City, and measured 23 inches long and 23 inches high. Brunk said there was strong competition on the phones, as well as from an online bidder who was still in the chase to $130,000, but in the end, a phone bidder, underbid by another phone bidder, won the lot for $196,800.
A circa 1910 Tiffany Studios bronze bamboo floor lamp with domed leaded glass shade depicting tulips was a close second-place finisher, ending up at $184,500. Brunk said it had received lots of presale interest and saw competition from collectors, consultants and dealers on eight phone lines competing against online bidders. He noted that it was in particularly good condition.
When asked where George and Florence Adams Ellis – T. Kenneth’s parents – had acquired things, Brunk said that aside from some of the jewelry, the estate had not retained many records. “The house was built and the collection was formed in the 1920s-30s, when many things were acquired. Things had clearly been held by the family for a very long time.”
Jewelry was a significant portion of the sale and many of the lots featured at or near the top of the leaderboard. Topping the category was a Ceylon sapphire and diamond ring with a center square cushion cut unheated blue sapphire surrounded by 36 round brilliant cut diamonds that weighed a total of 2.16 carats. A phone bidder had the top bid of $51,660, more than five times its low estimate.
Tiffany jewelry was also popular. A Tiffany platinum diamond ring with a 2.93-carat emerald cut center stone and two tapered baguette diamonds weighing 0.47 carats in total, had a GIA report and part of a 1973 receipt from Tiffany & Co. It sold to an American private collector for $39,360 on an absentee bid. An absentee bid – also by an American private collector – was good enough to win a Tiffany & Co., 18K yellow gold, lapis and diamond bracelet with more than 200 round brilliant diamonds weighing 10.0 carats that more than doubled its high estimate to finish at $27,060.
Two pieces by Art Deco jeweler Raymond Yard each sold for $22,140. The first to cross the block was a diamond and gemstone brooch with modified square corner-cut aquamarine, sapphires and diamonds in platinum and yellow gold fittings; the other was a platinum aquamarine pendant and brooch, the pendant with one rectangle cut aquamarine surrounded by 23 round brilliant cut diamonds weighing a total of 1.0 carats.
“It was a memorable treasure hunt wandering through everything,” Brunk said. Part of the fun an auctioneer has in handling such a large estate is experienced in combing through outbuildings and storage spaces and stumbling on unusual or interesting things that have been out of sight for years, if not generations. One such lot, a 1972 Volvo 1800 ES two-door wagon with 41,105 miles was discovered in one of the barns and the lot included various documents including the owner’s manual and maintenance receipts. According to the auction catalog, just more than 8,300 ES wagons were made from 1971 to 1973, when the model was discontinued. It had never been out of family and sold to an American collector, bidding online, for $13,530.
“We were curious to see how the garden figures would do,” Brunk said, referring to two pairs of stone garden ornaments, one depicting monkeys, the other depicting jesters. “They were wonderful things, very distinctive and garnered a lot of attention.” Both pairs were cataloged as Continental, late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century and both were estimated at $3/5,000. The pair depicting monkeys seated on plinths ornately carved with snakes, birds and flowers sold for $13,530, the pair with jesters had naturalistically carved bases and achieved $10,710.
A pair of Nineteenth Century Louis XV-style bronze mounted commodes with marble tops and veneered and marquetry cabinets were in rough shape, but the quality was apparent despite the condition and the pair sold to an American trade buyer, bidding on the phone, for $24,600. A pair of Irish George II-style pier tables, with marble tops and elaborately carved frames, sold within estimate, for $6,150. Rounding out the furniture offerings was a Dutch Neoclassical-style demilune commode that achieved $4,800.
The Ellises were avid sporting art collectors; dogs and horses featured prominently throughout the sale. Though “Warrior Watering His Horse,” which was attributed to Christian Adolf Schreyer, did not sell at $6/9,000, a painting of hunters with three pointers with grouse in the bush, attributed to Henry Walter (British, 1786-1849) rode to $7,380. A portrait of a dapple-gray hunter by a cottage, attributed to a follower of Sawry Gilpin (British, 1733-1807), came within a nose of its high estimate and finished at $6,765.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Brunk Auctions’ next Premier & Emporium Auctions are scheduled for July 8-10.
For additional information, www.brunkauctions.com or 828-254-6846.
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