Published: February 19, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Tania Kirkman
ALEXANDRIA, VA. – The Potomack Company ushered in its first sale of 2019 with a collection of American and European fine art, furniture, porcelains and decorative arts. The auction was conducted over a three-day period, with elements of online bidding together with a live sale on February 2, followed by two online auctions that ran February 5 and 6.
The sale spanned a variety of collecting categories and garnered heavy interest from buyers around the world. The morning of the main event saw the gallery bustling with activity as auction-goers met with new year greetings and caught up from the holidays. Seats filled quickly and remained full throughout the course of the day. Phone bids were steady during the auction, and for many items there were competing bidders on the lines.
The large audience remained attentive through the entirety of the live sale. “Because we had really good things, the crowd stayed late into the day,” said Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein, the firm’s president, who was enthusiastic about the sale’s results. “We were really pleased to see the porcelains doing so well, and also the Americana, which was strong across different categories, such as the documents and furniture, including the Boston highboy,” said Wainstein.
The top selling lot was a rare late period Egyptian corn mummy. Housed in a black painted and gilt-decorated falcon-form wooden coffin, the diminutive piece measured just under 20 inches long and 6 inches wide. Intended for use as a ritual item, it comprised mud, grain, seeds and linen. The belief was that the mummy would germinate and provide renewal for the deceased in the afterlife. Removed from Egypt in the 1940s, it was previously on loan to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Md., from 2004 to 2018 by its owner, a private Maryland collector.
As bidding opened on the mummy, the packed floor of the auction house waited eagerly as the starting bid, the low estimate of $45,000, was acknowledged. Bidding continued between two intent phone bidders, eventually exceeding the high estimate of $75,000 and selling for a total of $112,500.
The first session in the sale presented a single-owner, lifetime collection of porcelains from the collection of Roberta L. Tankel. As a dealer, collector, lecturer and appraiser of Eighteenth-Twentieth Century English, European and Continental porcelains, Tankel’s collection reflected her refined taste and eye for quality.
There was strength from the start, with several phone bidders and competition from the floor, online and absentee bids. Highlights included a group of two mid-Nineteenth Century Neoclassical-style cups and saucers. Once bidding began on the lot, the price took off. Having a modest estimate of $800-$1,200, they ended up selling for $10,000 to a phone bidder. A striking pair of early Nineteenth Century Sevres parcel-gilt and biscuit porcelain winged lions, which were a focal point during the exhibition, sold after the auction for $37,500.
Additionally, a pair of Meissen leopard pelt-mounted pictorial potpourri urns sold for $9,375; a pair of Eighteenth Century Meissen figural candlesticks from the Swan service, $8,125; a pair of late Nineteenth Century Meissen figural groups of the Four Seasons, $7,500; and a floral decorated cobalt garniture set by Spode, circa 1817, sold for $5,625.
Furniture in the auction ranged from early American to Nineteenth Century French chateau examples. A Boston Chippendale mahogany chest on chest, circa 1770, inscribed by Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895), author of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” sold for $12,500. An 1880s Victorian Renaissance Revival Wooten desk went for $8,750; an 1890s George III-style inlaid satinwood Carton House desk was $5,900; and a Swedish Rococo rosewood veneered commode, circa 1760s, fetched $5,000 from a phone bidder. A Steinway baby grand piano Model S more than doubled its high estimate and sold to the tune of $8,750.
Each of the 11 lots of Royal Copenhagen’s Florica Danica pattern porcelain sold to enthusiastic bidders in all sale platforms. A set of 12 pots de crème sold for $6,250 to an absentee bid; a set of 12 bouillon bowls and a set of 12 triangular custard cups each sold for $5,300 to internet bidders; a covered tureen went for $3,125 to the phone; and two sets of 12 plates sold collectively for $10,000 and went home with a floor bidder who was pleased to add them to her personal collection.
Fine art was strong in this sale, demonstrated by the prominent artists and fine examples offered, including a recently discovered painting of a “New York City Shanty” by Childe Hassam, and works by Bierstadt, Doughty, Whiting Stock and others. A Korean school portrait of a scholar with a $600/800 estimate topped out bidding and sold for $45,000. American paintings, each selling to bidders on the phone, included a James Edward Buttersworth (1817-1894) schooner off the coastline with lighthouse that sold for $25,000; “Commercial Wharf in Nantucket” by Anne Ramsdell Congdon (1873-1958) at $13,750; and “A Lengthy Farewell” by Edward Lamson Henry (1841-1919) for $12,500. Two pleasing sport paintings by Robert K. Abbett (1926-2015) both sold within their estimate range after the auction for a combined total of $39,000.
English and Continental artworks included a George Dunlop Leslie (1835-1921) “Ready to go Boating,” which sold for $25,000; a pastoral painting of sheep by Eugene Verboeckhoven (1799-1881) at $18,750; a pen and ink sketch, wash and graphite depicting the rocks at Kasr-es-saad Egypt by Edward Lear (1812-1888) for $6,875; and a religious painting depicting the burial of St Petronilla after Guercino $5,625.
Sculpture performed well, evidenced by Malvina Cornell Hoffman’s (1887-1996) bronze “Bali Boy with Cock.” The sculpture not only exceeded its estimate of $8/12,000, but surpassed previous auctions records, selling for $25,000 to an internet bidder. An outstanding Nineteenth Century white marble figure of Thomas Jefferson holding the Declaration of Independence in the manner of Horatio Stone (1808-1875) went to an absentee bidder for $8,750.
Another item of particular note was an 1850 bronze curled snake with provenance from Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, who established the Capitol Bronze Shop (1855-1859) as a foundry to cast architectural elements for the Capitol Extension, which at the time was under construction. Presumably cast from life by foreman Federico Casali, four similar snake castings are still in place today on doors at the east entry to the House Chamber. Bidding opened with a bank of phone bidders and competing online bids. Having a conservative estimate of $300/800, enthusiastic bidding continued until the lot sold for $4,680 to a phone bidder.
Antiquarian books and documents also played an important role in the sale, including one-of-a-kind handwritten letters by presidents and notable figures in history. An autograph letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Dickinson in 1801 discussed the divided opinions between the Federalist and Republican parties, providing thoughtful insight into America’s own political condition more than 200 years later. Jefferson wrote, “My dear friend, if we do not learn to sacrifice small differences of opinion, we can never act together, every man cannot have his way in all things.” The letter came from the South Carolina collection of Stewart R. Crane and, more than doubling its low estimate, sold for $53,000.
Other highlights from the Crane collection included another Thomas Jefferson letter, this one to James Ronaldson in 1812 discussing Monticello and Napoleon Bonaparte, which sold for $28,125; an endorsement note by President Abraham Lincoln appointing Major Abner Doubleday to brigadier general in 1861, which doubled its high estimate, selling for $15,000; and an autographed letter by Major General Ulysses S. Grant from 1862 during the Battle of Shiloh, which sold for four times its low estimate at $16,250.
The most valuable lots in the book category were a striking 1822 set of The British Poets in 100 volumes, bound in half red gilt-tooled leather and marbled paper. With an estimate of $2/2,500, the group sold for $10,625; and a rare first edition of Futility by Morgan Robertson, 1898, sold for its high estimate of $5,000.
The final online session of the sale featured jewelry, silver, fashion and decorative arts. A 22K gold curb link necklace sold for $8,000; an Art Deco platinum, cabochon jadeite, diamond and sapphire ring, $7,500; and a Tiffany & Co. 18K gold, diamond and lapis acorn leaf brooch at $3,750. Decorations included a 1930s Persian Heriz wool rug for $3,400; Civil War Major General Burnside silver presentation centerpiece bowl, circa 1868, for $1,750; and a designer Chanel three-piece skirt suit at $1,000.
All prices reported include buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
Potomack’s next auction will be conducted April 6 and will include Americana; documents, including a 1776 Continental Congress letter and Civil War correspondence; and jewelry to include Tiffany Schlumberger, Cartier, Chanel and others.
For additional information, www.potomackcompany.com or 703-684-4550.
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