Published: July 27, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy of Eldred’s
EAST DENNIS, MASS. – Property of a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson, the contents of the Brick House at Coolidge Point, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., crossed the block at Eldred’s on July 15. The auction’s 326 lots reflected the variety of goods that New England families acquire over generations, according to firm president Josh Eldred. “Multiple generations of the family resided at the Brick House, and little was sold, creating a time capsule that shows how styles and tastes evolved over the decades. This sale represented a rare and unique opportunity to purchase a piece of history from one of the country’s oldest families.” Eldred said he was “thrilled with the sale overall,” which would have been 100 percent sold save for four lots that passed. The total was $1,062,500, thanks to 178 different buyers and some 3,750 registered bidders that lined up on LiveAuctioneers, Invaluable and Eldred’s own online platform, bolstered by phone and left bids as well as about 30 people in the firm’s gallery.
The single-owner sale was led by a Chinese blue and white porcelain covered jar, which brought $200,000, selling online and going back to China. The unusually decorated piece had a six-character Kangxi mark on base.
It was several lots of Thomas Jefferson armorial Chinese export porcelain, however, that grabbed bidders’ attention, centering around a storied circa 1790 Chinese export “J” dinner service long associated with Thomas Jefferson. It is included in Margaret Brown Klapthor’s Official White House China (1984) and has been on display as Jefferson’s service at Monticello, the White House and other US State Department facilities. The lots ranged from single platters to large sets of plates and bowls. All featured a gilt script “J” enclosed within a shield with a blue outline studded with 13 gilt stars and surmounted by a knight’s helm set on a garlanded arabesque. Leading the group was a lot of ten plates, which brought $31,250. They were one of 24 lots of the armorial export that sold for a combined $255,000. The pieces were acquired by Jefferson’s great-grandson, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, in the Nineteenth Century, and descended through the family. The pieces were sold to phone, online and in-person bidders. It may have been someone’s intent to swoop in and grab all 24 lots, but that was not how it played out, said Eldred. “Several different people, a mix of trade and private buyers – about ten different parties – were successful,” he said.
Coolidge was a successful businessman involved in textiles, banking, railroads, electricity and the United Fruit Company, and he served as a US ambassador to France. He acquired most of the 25 lots of Jefferson armorial porcelain that were presented in the sale.
The Brick House was a family residence on Coolidge Point, a promontory of land in Manchester-by-the-Sea that Coolidge purchased in 1871. The property was also famously home to the Marble Palace, designed by Charles F. McKim of McKim, Mead & White, known for its massive Ionic columns that referenced Jefferson’s Monticello. The Marble Palace was demolished in 1958, and many of the furnishings were moved to the Brick House and then to this auction.
The sale was also highlighted by a yachting scene attributed to James Edward Buttersworth (American/English, 1817-1894) as well as several pieces of Nineteenth Century furniture. The scene of a yacht off Boston Light under stormy skies sold at mid-estimate for $26,250. Signed lower right “J.E. Buttersworth,” the oil on canvas measured 14 by 22 inches.
Other painting highlights included a portrait of the ship Adrian by Duncan McFarlane (American/English, 1834-1871), and a scene of cattle viewed through the trees by Edward Mitchell Bannister (American, 1828-1901). The McFarlane oil on canvas was signed and dated lower right, on a piece of driftwood in the composition, “D.M.F. 18…” and measured 24 by 36 inches. It sold for $22,500. Bannister’s work, which has performed strongly in recent months, outpaced its $8/12,000 estimate to also finish at $22,500. A New England tonalist and one of the first American Black painters to win an important national award, Bannister took first prize at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
“Soleil levant sur les bords de la Durance a Mirabeau, 1865,” a painting by Paul Guigou (French, 1834-1871) brought $16,250, while a landscape by Massachusetts artist Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow (1845-1921) titled “Manchester” and with Vose Galleries provenance also took $16,250, an auction record for Longfellow. An unsigned Nineteenth Century Anglo/American School portrait of a young man was inscribed verso “C.T. Lameth” with an MFA label and was bid to $15,000.
Art with a Jefferson tie-in realized $8,750. Nineteenth Century American artist Harriet Guild created “Thomas Jefferson (The Medallion Portrait),” a mixed media on paper, after a Gilbert Stuart painting. Unsigned, the portrait was accompanied by a typed copy of a letter that read: “My dear Jefferson, The box containing the head of my grandfather was among those bought from Randolph. I send it to you my son for your name’s sake…it is the most admirable copy of altogether the best portrait ever made of President Jefferson. The original by Stewart, the copy in crayon by Miss Harriet Guild – Ever affectionately your mother Ellen W. Coolidge [all sic].” The original portrait by Stuart is in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard. Ellen Coolidge was Jefferson’s granddaughter.
An extraordinarily long narwhal tusk, approximately 93½ inches long, tripled its high expectation, bringing $31,250. The tusk was well preserved, with just minor roughness at tip and base, and faint age lines and slight cracking, mostly following the natural spiraling of the tusk.
More than 100 furniture lots were included in the sale, most notably a Newport Queen Anne bonnet-top highboy that rose to $21,250, slightly above its high estimate. “It is good to see that furniture is ascending somewhat,” said Eldred. An elaborate needlework upholstered Chinese Chippendale armchair from the late Eighteenth Century featured mahogany arm supports, legs and pierced H-stretcher in the Chinese Chippendale style. The back height was 37 inches and seat height was 16½ inches. It left the gallery at $8,125
Several late Nineteenth/early Twentieth Century rugs were included, such as a late Nineteenth Century room-size Bakhshaish (11 feet by 14 feet 10 inches) that commanded $13,750 and a Laver-Kirman, circa 1900-10, 9 feet 10 inches by 14 feet 7 inches, that stretched to $11,250. It had an exuberant Tree of Life design consisting of three staggered rows of graceful slender tan and olive green arbors, alternately bearing green and salmon pink leafy branches, bright ivory blossoms and green and light blue leaves. Multiple borders featured floral and foliate motifs and garrus vines.
Among nearly 50 lots of silver, an assembled “American Kings” sterling silver flatware service bearing various monograms weighed in at $10,000, and a pair of Bigelow, Kennard & Co. / Kennard & Jenks sterling sauce boats, Boston, circa 1870, changed hands for $5,625.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. Eldred’s next event, its Summer Sale, is set for July 29-31. For information, 508-385-3116 or www.eldreds.com.
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