Published: September 3, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Bourgeault-Horan
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – The August 18 summer auction, referred to by Ron Bourgeault and Jim Horan as “The Farewell to the Treadwell Mansion” sale, grossed more than $1,115,000. But that’s not the story – the story is their legacy and what their friends and staff had to say about the last sale in that building. All agree that it truly is the end of an era, and many shared their feelings. The Treadwell Mansion in historic Portsmouth for 25 years has been the home of Northeast Auctions, and more recently, the home of Bourgeault and Horan, Antiquarians. How many auctions have been conducted there? A lot. How much money has changed hands there? Probably more than $125 million. The story isn’t about money. It’s about long-lasting friendships, learning and collecting.
People who write about auctions and shows for the trade papers have watched and developed friendships with Bourgeault, Horan and the staff for years. They also can place the company and house in context, having seen so many other auctions. Clayton Pennington, editor of the Maine Antique Digest, said, “Ron and Jim’s sales at the Treadwell Mansion were vitally important, to both the market and as an example of ‘doing it right.’ They loved the stuff. They loved the people. They loved the business. And it showed. Using a ‘good, better, best’ scale, they buried the needle at ‘best.'”
Scudder Smith, founder and publisher of Antiques and The Arts Weekly, remarked, “When Ron bought the Treadwell Mansion for his auction operation, he did not change the name of the historic building. It just happened. Almost overnight the Treadwell became Bourgeault, the site for auctions and other antiques interests. After a lengthy and successful run, Ron has decided to make some changes in his business, leaving the Treadwell Mansion, and you can bet it will be a generation or two, more likely several, before the Treadwell takes back its original name.”
Laura Beach, longtime editor of this publication, said, “Ron Bourgeault conveys the magic of Americana without pretense or exaggeration. He is the real deal – a living embodiment of the very best of our shared tradition and a true connection with our field’s origins. Whether sitting under the tent or traipsing through its warren of viewing rooms, an auction at Treadwell House was always an adventure into the past. The charisma and mystique of those sales will be with Ron and Jim wherever they go.”
Remarks by staff members had a theme – all commented on the knowledge they gained while working there and the long-term friendships that were formed. Rebecca Davis, who worked with Ron and Jim for close to 20 years cataloging material, said, “It was a great experience. The variety of stuff that came through the door was so wide that we all had to learn, sometimes about things we had never seen before. We wanted catalog descriptions to include as much history as possible, along with descriptions of the item and condition. Monica [Reuss] and I worked together for that whole period. Sometimes Ron thought our catalog descriptions were too long, but he never changed them. He wanted them as complete as we could make them.” Both are now in their own businesses and will assist Bourgeault and Horan as future sales come along. Caroline Tamposi, 30, has a master’s degree from Sotheby’s Institute, has worked with the company for the last year and said, “I never would have dreamed of the learning experience this would be. It’s hands-on, real world and sometimes heavy work, but I loved it. Ron and the rest of the people are friends and great teachers. I know it’s time for new adventures for all of us, but if I’m asked, I’d always be back here for more.”
Portsmouth dealer Jonathan Trace has been friends with Bourgeault “since we were kids” and said, “I’ve probably been to all his auctions, and I know that I bought my first good piece of silver from him at an antiques show in Kent, Conn., in the late 1960s. It cost me $600. I’d never spent that much money on a piece before that. I could always buy at his auctions but was never able to make a lot of money. He always got good prices. He’s a straight and honest auctioneer and I look forward to his next sales.” Others who have known Bourgeault and Jim Horan for years made similar comments.
Trace said, “This sale was a barn-burner,” and he was right. Prices were strong throughout the sale, the tent was full, and there was a feeling of enthusiasm that’s sometimes lacking these days. Some in the audience may have been there because it was the last sale in the building, but it seemed like everyone came to buy. It was a sale of several collections: paintings – marine and others – American furniture, China Trade material, Fitz Henry Lane lithographs and sheet music, silver, items of historical interest, early firearms and more. Bringing the highest price of the sale, $64,800, was a pair of portraits by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) with an extensive provenance that is detailed on the website and in the catalog. The sitters were Barney Smith and his wife, Ann Otis Smith. They were painted between 1817 and 1825. Smith, a merchant from Taunton, Mass., and his wife had three children, each of whom also had portraits painted by Stuart. This pair of paintings had extensive notes on the back of each, along with exhibition history. Another Stuart portrait, this one of David Sears, a Boston merchant, brought $42,000.
Paintings were strong throughout the sale. Four ship portraits by James Bard (1815-1897) combined to bring $158,670. Earning $45,600 was Bard’s painting of the steamer Isaac Smith on the Hudson River with flags flying. It was named for a shipyard owner in Nyack, N.Y. The steamboat was purchased by the US Navy at the outbreak of the Civil War and served briefly as a gunboat until her capture by the Confederate Army at Stono River, S.C. The painting was signed and dated “Picture Painted by James Bard N.Y. 1861/ 162 Perry St.” The ship was built in 1861 for service between Manhattan and Poughkeepsie. Bringing just a few dollars less, $43,200, was Bard’s painting of the sidewheel steamboat Virginia Seymour. It was signed and dated 1864.
An example of the extensive research the company does concerned a painting determined to be Navassa Island in the Caribbean. As Bourgeault was selling it, he commented that the island had not been identified until Monica Ruess’s research revealed the location and history of the island. Her catalog entry tells us that one of the two vessels in the painting was the brig Romance at anchor off the island, which was a major source of guano used for fertilizer in the Nineteenth Century. There was an American settlement near the shore, while mining activity took place at the top of the cliffs. A rail track transported mined guano down the cliff. Above, swarms of birds in the sky bore testament to the rich deposits of their droppings found on the island.
Located between Haiti and Jamaica, this tiny island was declared a US territory in 1857 under the Guano Islands Act. For 30 years, the Navassa Phosphate Co. of Baltimore mined the island, using African American laborers. The harsh conditions and the company’s abusive labor practices provoked a bloody rebellion in 1889, and the Romance, which often stopped at Navassa, was pressed into service evacuating survivors. After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the island was abandoned. The painting sold for $24,000. The sale included several China Trade paintings with one, “American Bark James S. Stone at Anchor off Hong Kong,” attributed to Amcheong (active 1840-1870) or his studio, earning $13,200.
There may be softness in the marketplace for “brown” furniture, but the right “brown” furniture will still bring good prices. Less than in past years, perhaps, allowing collectors the opportunity to own fine things that they might not have been able to afford in the past. A very good Portsmouth Sheraton mahogany and bird’s-eye maple veneer, two-drawer work table, attributed to Judkins and Senter, circa 1815, brought $13,800. A mahogany and flame birch veneer, 12-panel bowfront chest with a drop panel sold for $15,600. It was cataloged as “a very rare form.” A Massachusetts Chippendale carved block front slant lid desk, circa 1775, earned $10,920. It had belonged to Henry Gardner of Boston, the state’s first treasurer, and remained in the family until this sale. Wallace Nutting furniture remains strong, with a Goddard-style carved mahogany block and shell chest-on-chest realizing $10,800.
Bourgeault and Horan had advertised a collection of more than 35 lithographs by Fitz Henry Lane from a single collection. All are listed in the Cape Ann Museum’s catalogue raisonné of Lane’s works. That museum, in Gloucester, Mass., has a large collection of Lane’s works and most – if not all – can be seen online. Most sold under $1,500, with a view of “New Bedford From The Fort Near Fair Haven” bringing $1,800 and “A View of Gloucester” also finishing at $1,800. The collection included scarce examples of sheet music with covers lithographed by Lane. One such group, with seven pieces, sold for $1,380, and another group of five sold for $840.
The day after the sale, Bourgeault said, “The one-day format worked very well. I was able to present a curated group of offerings, and that’s the way I want to go in the future – smaller, high-quality sales.
“Comments from folks attending the sale were all positive, so I’ve no doubt that Jim and I made the right decision.” When asked about the biggest surprise of the day, the answer was “clearly, the flag.” When asked about the most significant item he sold from Treadwell over the last 25 years, he replied, “That would have to be the Fitz Henry Lane painting I sold for $913,500 in 2005. It was part of the largest sale we ever had here, which grossed $9.7 million.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.bourgeaulthoranauctions.com or 603-433-8400.
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