Normally, the carved folk art that flies at auction has wings, but a decidedly unaerodynamic 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 a 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. Some of that plaster and dust coated Joe Keden’s own accordion, which, on offer for $50․150, attracted one lone bid and sold for $57.
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 $200,000, $300,000 and $400,000 as the auction gallery crowd gasped and then applauded as a woman from Kennedy Galleries in New York City made the $542,400 bid on behalf of an anonymous collector that brought things to a close.
The Weiss two-day, three-session multi-estate sale grossed $1.6 million, offering some 1,600 lots. “It was a tremendous weekend for everyone, buyers and sellers,” Weiss said. “The crowd was filled to capacity, and we had about 2,500 registered online bidders and a very active phone and absentee bidding component. We had eight or nine phone lines all going at once. It was crazy.”
Other notable lots coming out of the Kedenberg estate included a maritime figural folk art wood carving, possibly a figurehead, circa Eighteenth Century and measuring 39 inches tall, which surprised the auctioneer and elicited more bidding competition †including seven phones †to vault way past its $1/2,000 presale estimate and settle at $129,950.
During preview, folk art collectors could be seen performing a “dental exam” on a tin trade sign resembling an upper set of choppers, embossed in the roof of the mouth “Cushing & White Makers, Waltham, Mass.” The 17-by-18-inch sign that hung by three metal bars apparently passed inspection, attaining $49,720 as it crossed the block.
Indeed, folk art flew high throughout the sale, including a 20-inch-high carved face that may have been used as a prop on the old Steve Allen show that sold for $9,323, an early optometrist’s trade eyeglass stimulator that sold for $4,068 and a pair of painted wooden barber poles, circa 1880-1890, with gold painted finials, blue borders and red and white candy stripes, both 45 inches tall, which finished at $9,320.
Such lofty prices were discouraging to some who had come to the gallery either during preview or on auction day hoping to snag a bargain. Audible sighs could be heard emanating from many of the 200 or so patrons in the gallery †Weiss normally draws fewer folks because the comics and collectibles market, his staple audience, is more apt to bid online †as lots levitated above their reach. A local antiques dealer was heard to murmur that she “could not buy a thing” with major folk art “heavy hitters” in the gallery or on the phones.
Weiss is synonymous with original Charles Schulz Peanuts art, and did not need to capitalize on the renewed public interest in the cartoonist thanks to a recently published controversial biography in order to fetch top prices in the category. On the sale’s first day, a Sunday page from August 1971 spoofing Charlie Brown’s baseball managerial skills hit $67,800. Other Peanuts highlights were a “Great Pumpkin” Sunday page from October 1962, which sold for $62,100. The Schulz comic art total came to $150,000.
Fine art highlights included a huge oil on canvas scene titled “The Battle of the Sticks on the Ponte Santa Fosca, Venice” by an unknown artist. The Eighteenth Century painting, which recorded a pitched battle between two groups of men, measured 132 by 63 inches and garnered a hefty $28,250.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium of 13 percent. Philip Weiss Auctions’ next sale is December 15 and 16. Weiss will offer 1,400 lots of toys, dolls, toy soldiers, trains, cast iron toys and accessories. For information, 516-594-0731 or www.prwauctions.com .