Published: August 22, 2011
“For the past 31 years I have been in the high-end recycling business here in Nantucket,” stated auctioneer Rafael Osona as he prepared to kick off yet another of his block-buster summer auctions on this idyllic island. The crowd that had jammed its way into the American Legion Hall on August 6 broke out in laughter, knowing full well that not only would an entertaining day follow, but one also filled with prime opportunities to acquire some rare and fine antiques.
The crowd was enormous: every seat in the house was occupied, people lined the rear of the hall and the sides †in some places five or six people deep †and they were hungry. The results reflected their appetite, with the auction grossing $1.1 million.
There were dealers in the crowd, there were some curious onlookers, but the vast majority of the buyers on hand were upper-crust retirees with summer homes that were in need of some good antique chairs, tables, Nantucket baskets, ship models, paintings, Canton and perhaps a piece of whalebone in some exotic and well-executed carved form.
Osona continued to woo the crowd prior to offering the first lot. “I sent my son up to look over items from the Katherine Seeler estate in Cambridge,” he said. “He called me on the way home and said, ‘I’m bringing something home you are going to like.'” Seeler, Osona explained to a minority of the crowd that did not already recognize the name, wrote the book Nantucket Lightship Baskets in 1987 and was a consummate collector of all things Nantucket. “He told me that he had found a whalebone yardstick, dated 1819 with scrimmed pinprick decoration from end to end. He said it was under a bed, wrapped in a blanket, probably been there for decades.”
The auctioneer could not decide what to show the crowd: the yardstick or a book that verified that it was perhaps the earliest known marked example, so he simply held them both high in the air.
Prices were strong right from the opening lot. As a rare Map of the Island of Nantucket, including Tuckernuck, Surveyed by Wm Mitchell, 1835, was offered, Osona paraded up and down the center aisle as he took bids from the anxious crowd. Opening at $1,000, bids came from his right, then his left, back and forth until the lot finished at $2,900.
A pair of Canton candlesticks, “rare” according to the auctioneer, went out at $3,346 to a telephone bidder. A Nantucket Windsor bowback side chair followed, selling at $1,624.
A small collection of blue decorated stoneware jugs, pitchers and various other forms had been in the Seeler estate (actually the estate of Carol Ishimoto, who was the sole heir to the estate of Katherine and Edgar Seeler). Osona did not think much of the group until the first advertisement broke and the telephone started ringing off the wall. One of the pieces, which had been simply placed with the other items, soon found itself wrapped tightly in a packing crate and far, far away from harm’s way.
Two poultry feeders were included in the Seelers’ collection and the first with a Bristol glaze met with tepid interest, selling at $522. The second, however, created quite a stir. Marked “Wade & Henry, Philadelphia,” the piece was vividly decorated and Osona looked for an opening bid in the vicinity of the price the previous feeder achieved. He got it quickly from a bidder who had flown into town for the sale from Florida. Several others in the crowd chased the lot, with the Florida buyer finally prevailing at $4,060.
A few lots later, the piece in the packing crate was unloaded and brought to the podium, a rare 2-gallon batter jug by Cowden and Wilcox that was decorated with birds on both sides that were sitting on large and full sprigs of leaves. Thinking it was yet another of Osona’s attempts at humor, the crowd chuckled when the auctioneer asked for a $10,000 opening bid for the jug †then quickly quieted down when that bid came immediately from the Florida buyer. A telephone bidder hit the lot at $12,500, the gentleman in the room countered without a moment’s hesitation at $15,000; a second phone bidder hit the lot at $17,500, again the Florida bidder nodded his head, practically before Osona finished ac-knowledging the previous bid. And so it went until the Florida buyer claimed the lot at $29,000.
An impressive-looking nest of ten Nantucket baskets by contemporary maker Michael Kane, circa 1985, did well, selling at $12,760. Period Nantuckets included a swing handle basket by Roland Folger at $6,960, a shallow swing handle basket by Obed Coffin at $6,380 and a Jose Reyes rectangular eve-ning purse with a carved flying seagull on the ivory plaque mounted to the lid that realized $8,700.
Contemporary artist Michael Keane was represented at the auction with a couple of oil on canvas paintings, including “America’s Cup 1886, Mayflower and Galatea,” that realized $40,600, and a water-front scene with sailing vessel titled “Across the Marsh” that brought $24,360.
Osona has created quite a market for Anne Ramsdell Congdon paintings, and two of the examples of-fered met with approval. A marsh scene with a hamlet in the background titled “Goose Pond from Pov-erty Point” saw an exciting bout of bidding from the crowd, with the painting selling at $31,900. A small Congdon oil titled “Commercial Wharf” brought $5,220.
A rare pair of globes on stands attracted a great deal of attention. With tripod bases and a lower com-pass supported by the stretcher base, the pair of G&J Cary’s New Terrestrial globes sold at $27,840. Another globe by Cary, a pocket globe in its original shaped case, measured only 3 inches in diameter and brought $8,120.
A rare carved and inlaid whale ivory and whalebone walking stick, circa 1830, became the top lot of the auction. It featured an elaborate and well-executed carved ivory fist clenching a snake that was coiled about the wrist. The whale bone shaft was further decorated with tortoiseshell panels and dia-monds, mother of pearl hearts and wax inlaid harpoons. A similar walking stick by the same carver established a record price paid at auction in 1994 at Osona’s at $49,000. The current example handily exceeded that, bringing $71,920.
A rare and stylish whalebone and whale ivory swift on a stand was another lot to elicit strong bids. Provenance listed the Delanos as being related to the Boston Brahmin family whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower and had a lineage of sea captains and lighthouse keepers. Bidding on the lot was quick paced, with it finishing at $26,480.
The rare whalebone yardstick that Osona had spoken of prior to the auction was offered next. Scrimmed and with pinprick decoration depicting ships, eagles, whales, hearts, houses and floral de-signs, the center panel was inscribed “Sarah Coffin” and dated 1819. After checking illustrations in various books, Osona determined that this was perhaps the earliest known dated whalebone ruler in existence. With the same enthusiasm as the previous whalebone lots had garnered, the rare item was bid to $16,240.
Prices include the premium charged.
For additional information, www.rafaelosonaauction.com or 508-228-3942.
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