Published: October 23, 2007
Normally, the carved folk art that flies at auction has wings, but a decidedly un-aerodynamic looking Nineteenth Century Punch cigar store figure soared to $542,400 on day two of Philip Weiss’s October 20 and 21 sale.
“I felt like I was entering King Tut’s tomb,” said auctioneer Philip Weiss, referring to the home in Astoria, N.Y., that yielded the Punch figure, along with treasure trove of rare items after having been sealed shut for more than 25 years.
Early trade signs and advertising material, more than 200 occupational shaving mugs, rare Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century folk art carved ship figureheads, turn-of-the-century barber and pharmacy bottles, a cast iron toy collection featuring original mechanical banks, fire and police department memorabilia and breweriana were discovered in room after room.
The estate was the lifetime collection of Joseph Kedenberg, a musician also known as “Keden on the Keys,” who died in the 1980s, leaving his estate to a Midwest friend, according to Weiss. “Plaster was literally falling from the ceiling and walls as we removed the stuff from what must have been a showplace in the 1950s,” Weiss said.
The 5½-foot-tall Punch figure was attributed to American carver Samuel Anderson Robb (1851‱928), who emigrated to New York City from Scotland, and marketed himself as a tobacconist specialist. In his catalog listing, Weiss noted that there were some signs of paint chipping, but that owing to its age and the circumstances of its discovery, it “warrants the attention of all serious buyers.”
And serious buyers there were †eight phones, a packed gallery that included some heavy hitters and the Internet were in play after Weiss momentarily called a time out after the morning’s first 100 lots. Starting at $50,000, the action quickly moved in $500 increments, well past the $100/150,000 presale estimate, and then incredibly breaching the $200,000, $300,000 and $400,000 as the auction gallery crowd gasped and then applauded as an unidentified woman in the gallery made the $542,400 bid that brought things to a close.
Someone yelled out, “Smile, Phil!” to which the auctioneer replied, “I’ll smile when he’s safe in his new home.”
A full report of the sale will appear in an upcoming issue.
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