Published: August 17, 2004
Arthur Spector bought his first antique, a butter churn, in 1959. By the late 1970s, he and his wife Miriam were seriously collecting folk art and country furniture.
Over three decades, the Spectors filled their Philadelphia area home with bold, colorful, whimsical, imaginative painting, sculpture, furniture and textiles. Not everything had a Pennsylvania provenance, but every piece possessed irrepressible joie de vivre.
The Spectors followed age-old advice: “Buy the best, and buy it from reputable dealers.”
Their wisdom was rewarded at Northeast Auction on Saturday, August 7, when their 331-lot collection grossed about $1.7 million including premium. Sources say the couple, who is furnishing a new home in an entirely different taste, were as pleased with results as they were with Northeast’s handsome, well-designed catalog.
“A few years ago, when we sold the collection of Virginia Cave, Arthur Spector said to me, ‘I want a Northeast Auction some day,'” auctioneer Ron Bourgeault announced shortly before the pyrotechnics began.
Over the years, the Spectors bought heavily from Olde Hope Antiques. Returning their loyalty, Olde Hope’s Pat Bell bought back several star lots, including the iconic hooked runner known as “Domestic Zoo.” Estimated at $25/35,000, the small textile (it is only 24 by 72 inches) incorporating a pleasantly chaotic array of animals and plants brought $71,500.
The New Hope, Penn., dealers also claimed a vividly decorated early Nineteenth Century blanket chest cataloged as a Vermont piece, $96,000 ($25/25,000); an early Nineteenth Century eagle decorated sign for the Birdsey Hall tavern in Goshen, Conn., $68,500 ($25/45,000); and, for $23,000, three of the five decorated Nineteenth Century redware pottery bowls attributed to Pennsylvania potter John Bell. The bowls last sold at Horst Auction’s 1997 sale of the contents of the Snow Hill Nunnery. There, 40 Snow Hill bowls reached $345,000, with individual prices ranging from $5,500 to $15,500.
Philadelphia dealer Amy Finkel bid on several lots that she sold the Spectors. The most impressive was a silkwork memorial to John J. Marselis, a New Yorker who died at age 17 in 1808. The fully realized pictorial needle-work combines a detailed architectural rendering of a church in an imaginative landscape with four figures whose faces are painted on ivory. Carrying an $45/65,000 estimate, it went to M. Finkel & Daughter for $96,000.
“It’s just an extraordinary rug. I know of nothing comparable. It’s well worth every penny,” said Rubin.
Dated “March 1852,” a hooked hearth rug with the profile portrait of a horse enclosed in a geometric border of stylized flower pots and roses collected $9,200.
New York collector Eric Maffei claimed the graphic, colorful portrait of a beribboned woman carrying a red book for $85,000 ($35/45,000). Well-known and widely exhibited, the picture was formerly in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Purchased from Berry-Hill Galleries, a pair of three-quarter-length watercolor por-traits of a couple by Jacob Maentel went to Massachusetts dealer David Wheatcroft for $18,400. Also from Berry-Hill was a pair of Erastus Salisbury Field oil on canvas portraits of a man and a woman that sold to the phone for $25,300.
Attributed to Milton W. Hopkins, a three-quarter-length portrait of an Ohio boy, Edwin William Freese, sold to an absentee bidder for $23,000.
To New York dealer Sidney Gecker went the buoyant watercolor “Picking Apples,” $33,350. Once part of the celebrated Garbisch collection, the painting has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum and the National Gallery of Art.
Large and arresting, an oil on canvas mountain landscape of Vermont or New Hampshire left the room at $31,625. The Spectors bought the work from New Hampshire dealer Peter Sawyer.
Retailed by Donald Sack, an oil on canvas view of Lake George with a paddle-wheeler sold for $28,750.
A pastel on paper New England townscape, $23,000, surmounted by a fruit filled cornucopia was a charming reminder of Russell Carrell, who owned the picture for many years.
A gilded and red-painted copper rooster from the Spector collection tied with a Goddess of Liberty vane in Sunday’s various-owners session as most expensive weathervane of the weekend. Each brought $61,900. The rooster once belonged to the noted collector of American folk sculpture Bernard Barenholtz.
Ex-Courcier & Wilkins, a 351/2-inch-long gilded copper codfish weathervane, possibly by Fiske, crossed the block at $25,300.
Estimated at $9/12,000, a charming carved and painted bust of Henry Colt, owner of the ship Richard Mitchell of Edgartown, Mass., sold in the room for $18,400.
Olde Hope Antique claimed a pair of Philadelphia bamboo-turned bow back armchairs, ex-H.L. Chalfant, $25,300, and a Pennsylvania step back cupboard in soft, gunmetal grey paint, $31,050.
Two New England Queen Anne maple corner chairs – one handled by Wayne Pratt and Israel Sack, the other from H.L. Chalfant – secured a phone bid of $21,850.
“The curvier, the better,” said Arthur Spector, describing his taste in Delaware Valley ladder back armchairs. His two favorites from a group of nine included one chair on high disk and spire feet. Purchased from David Geiger, it fetched $10,350. Another, from Phil Bradley, brought $5,175.
It had been Arthur Spector’s custom to give Miriam an antique paper valentine every February 14. “Constant Affection” read one that sold for $518. A husband’s tribute to his wife, the valentines were also a fitting token to the couple’s lifelong passion for collecting.
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