Published: November 12, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy of Fontaine’s Auction Gallery
PITTSFIELD, MASS. – Fontaine’s Auction Gallery has become known for selling furniture and other decorative arts of the Belle Epoque period and style. The firm’s November 3 sale continued with this specialization. Well-made, large-scale, heavily carved furniture by firms such as R.J. Horner, designed for Gilded Age homes, was included along with glass by Tiffany and others, lamps and chandeliers, pottery by Weller, Teplitz and others along with appropriate accessories. In addition, there was a collection of early phonographs and music boxes, silver, numerous paintings and vintage advertising. Although the crowd in the saleroom was not large, patrons were active and bought many lots. In addition, several absentee bids had been left and internet and telephone bidders were active throughout the sale.
Dealers in the room, with clientele for the large, heavily carved pieces, went home happy, and several items selling over estimates satisfied John Fontaine. One of the large carved pieces that seemed to be a bargain was a well-carved, massive Asian eagle perched on an equally large root base. It was 47 inches tall, 48 inches wide, 44 inches deep, retaining the original dark patina. The low estimate was a conservative $600, but it sold in the room for $242. Furniture by known makers sold for more but still seemed reasonable.
One of the higher prices, $4,538, was realized for a 57-inch-wide mahogany partners’ desk made by the R.J. Horner Company. The desk top was supported by spread-winged griffins, and the apron and drawer fronts were also carved. From the same maker, a heavily carved oak hall bench with scenic panels, winged griffins and a maiden crest also went to a buyer in the room for $2,723, eliciting this comment from the auctioneer: “It’s a shame. That’s a great piece of furniture.” Robert J. Horner opened his business in New York city in 1886 and from the outset deliberately appealed to both wealthy and middle-class consumers. His advertising referenced “First Class and Medium Quality Furniture.” Horner’s showrooms displayed his furniture in room-style settings, common today but uncommon at that time. The company survived on its own until 1915 when it merged with another furniture maker.
Fontaine’s sale included lighting and other accessories that wealthy homeowners used, along with the heavily carved and other Victorian furniture. A massive multi-tiered hanging brass chandelier with a slightly hammered textured surface had two central tiers and eight hanging lights and also displayed numerous opalescent Tiffany-style prisms, a few of which were either missing or in need of restoration. It was 84 inches tall and 39 inches in diameter, with 6- and 10-inch prisms. It realized $908. A large, 27-inch ornate slag glass paneled lamp with a fancy overlay frame, decorated with wreaths and tassels on a matching base with claw feet exceeded its estimate, finishing at $968. A puffy Pairpoint Papillon table lamp with a 14-inch shade, reverse painted with colorful butterflies and red roses with vines and leaves, realized $3,630. A 32-inch bronze lamp base with a serpent coiled up the stem of the base went to an internet buyer for $3,933, far over the estimate. eliciting surprise from the auctioneer.
Another lot that was a pleasant surprise was a lot of five Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century ceramic and earthenware chargers, decorated with Renaissance scenes. The group went to a phone bidder for $6,655 followed closely by a pair of circa 1800 majolica plaques with Roman scenes, which also went to a phone bidder, probably the same one, for $6,050. These were the two highest priced lots of the day.
The sale included several cylinder and disc music boxes and early phonographs. A Talk-O-Phone phonograph in an oak case with original finish, stenciled panel and a black and brass horn, in working condition, earned $605. The company was short-lived, existing from only 1903 to 1908. An early key-wind Columbia Graphophone cylinder phonograph, missing the reproducer, brought $363. A working Victor type R 7-inch disc phonograph with a front-mount horn supported on an oak rod, with reproducer, sold for $787. That model was introduced in 1902. An Edison Diamond Disc phonograph needing a new belt and in a Mission-style oak cabinet brought $266. A mahogany Regina disc music box on base with a double comb mechanism sold for $1,936, and a Mermod Freres Swiss cylinder music box with three additional cylinders in a separate oak case reached $968. It was in working condition but missing five teeth on the comb. A large cylinder music box in a banded rosewood case, 27 inches wide and in working condition, earned $484.
Art pottery included large Rookwood and Weller lamp bases. An 1882, 21-inch-tall Rookwood example with a frosted and etched glass shade sold for $363. The base was decorated with a scene of birds and clouds and signed by William McDonald. A signed Louwelsa Weller lamp base, more than 35 inches tall with an imperfect butterfly shade, sold for $726. The body had an amber, green and brown glaze with a large flower display on the front with leaves and vines carrying onto the sides. Another large Louwelsa Weller oil lamp decorated with yellow daffodils and a 10-inch diameter cased yellow glass shade sold for $787.
Fontaine’s is a family business. John Fontaine’s parents were in the antiques business and his father conducted auctions. More than 50 years ago, before he was a teenager, John’s father had him do some selling and he’s been doing it ever since. Daughter Mia is the office manager, and her sister Dina and brother John also work for the company. Mia’s daughter, 4-year-old Maria, may be the fourth generation of the family to be involved with the business. She happily chatted with anyone and happily had her picture taken with her mother. At the last Fontaine’s sale we attended, John stopped the auction so that Maria could sing her favorite song.
He said he was satisfied with the results of this auction. “It was interesting to me that our highest priced lots, that unusual bronze lamp base and the two lots of early ceramics, all came from the same consignor in Virginia. The internet provided us with a lot of sales. Several buyers bought just one or two items – which meant that we had a lot of invoices to send out after the sale. Our January 18  sale will be a strong one. We have a large collection of puffy Pairpoint lamps and other good furniture. We’re looking forward to that.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
For information, 413-448-8922 or https://fontainesauction.com.
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