Published: November 30, 2021
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy William Smith Auctions
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – Bill Smith’s November 20 sale was promoted as an “Exceptional Pre-Thanksgiving Auction,” and that was a fair description. The furniture selection included Shaker pieces that had been purchased directly from the Enfield community in the 1920s, along with other formal and country furniture, a selection of jewelry, Tiffany lamps, American and European paintings and a huge cow weathervane, which dominated the auction hall. On the day of the sale, the gallery was empty but for Smith and his staff. All bidding was by phone, absentee bidding and internet. Interestingly, in the days before Covid, Smith did not use internet bidding and would routinely fill his auction gallery with 300-400 prospective bidders. When this sale began at 10 am, there were more than 1,000 bidders watching on LiveAuctioneers. That number rose to around 1,700 and was still more than 1,200 midway through the sale. Additional bidders were utilizing other platforms, so it’s fair to say that more than 2,000 potential bidders were involved with the sale. The gross was $1,501,370, with just a few items passed.
Two important pieces of Shaker furniture led the day. Both had been bought by Helen Bucklin in 1920 from Sisters at the Enfield, N.H., Shaker community and remained in the Bucklin family until now. The family collection was well known to Shaker dealers and collectors, as some pieces had been sold in a 2011 Shaker auction. Selling for $330,400 was a sewing desk, which retained its original red wash, had six dovetailed drawers in the lower section, six dovetailed drawers in the upper section and a sliding work surface that extended out both front and back. Shaker specialist John Keith Russell said, “The desk is incredible. It looks like it hasn’t been touched in 80 years. It’s better than the one that sold in 2011 (for $27,500). That one had three refinished surfaces.” It was bought by a collector who asked to remain anonymous, but he termed it “a masterpiece” and said, “I bought myself a birthday present.” The second Enfield piece was a small two-piece birch worktable with remnants of the original red stain. The removable top section had four dovetailed drawers and the bottom section had a single drawer that extended through the back. Russell also had compliments for this piece, which sold for $94,400. It was bought by the Shaker Museum in Enfield.
Other furniture included two flat top highboys, both of which exceeded estimates, perhaps indicating a renewed interest in “brown” furniture. An Eighteenth Century tiger maple Queen Anne New Hampshire example was cataloged as being very similar to a signed example by John Kimball Deryfield of N.H., and illustrated in Plain and Elegant, Rich and Common; Documented NH Furniture. It went out for $15,340. The other highboy that sold for just a few dollars less, $14,160, was grain painted on cherry and had probably originated in the Connecticut River Valley. An Eighteenth Century Queen Anne mahogany tea table, with a molded tray top, candle slides and with repairs to the legs reached $6,490. An Eighteenth Century William and Mary single-drawer tavern table with an early painted surface realized $2,006. There were also a number of painted country cupboards.
In addition to the two Shaker pieces, another 18 items finished over $10,000 each. Foremost among these, at least for the Americana collector, was a monumental full-bodied copper weathervane of a milk cow, complete with udder (and attachments) attributed to Fiske & Company. Selling for $32,450, the cow was more than 52 inches long and mounted on a two-piece custom-made stand. It was not the only weathervane in the sale. A small equestrian vane, with a horse jumping over a five-rail fence and with original directionals, earned $6,490. It was 24 inches long and when displayed next to the cow, it looked like a dollhouse version of a weathervane.
Leaded glass and Tiffany lamps did well. A 22½-inch-diameter signed Tiffany hanging shade with a geometric pattern in a pleasing deep green color realized $23,600. An Acorn pattern floor lamp on a bronze base with five legs, signed on both base and shade, realized $17,700. There were two Lilypad lamps. One with seven arms and shades sold for $8,260. Although it was signed, the catalog noted that the signature may have been added. An unusual Handel table lamp with a 24-inch-square brightly colored shade brought $12,980. It was signed on the shade as well as the bronze base, which had three winged lions.
A few days before the sale, Smith was asked about the decision to not have a live audience in the gallery, which has been a trademark of Smith auctions. “It’s basically a cautious response to Covid conditions,” he explained. “When I asked staff members how they felt about a sale with a large crowd in the building, they were almost unanimous in preferring that there not be a crowd in the building. The infection rate in New Hampshire has been climbing, and it would have been hard to argue with their feelings on the subject. I also believed that our retail buyers would be skeptical of spending much time among a crowd. It was common sense to me. After listening to everyone concerned and seeing the rise in Covid infections, we decided not to have in-house bidding. We ran out of bidder numbers on SmithLive, and 3,500 people had registered on Invaluable. LiveAuctioneers added a whole bunch more, so we had a good ‘crowd’ for the sale. I’m old school, I enjoy selling with a crowd in the room, but I’ve learned that there’ll be little, if any, effect on the selling prices. We have a long period for previewing, with special events to encourage people, and there were a lot of people here checking out things they were interested in. It was a strong sale in all categories, and it felt good to see some American furniture, like the highboys, coming back to life. We finished over a million and half, so everyone is pleased. Even if we were here until about 10:30.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.wsmithauction.com or 603-675-2549.
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