Published: October 4, 2016
Review and Onsite Photos by W.A. Demers; Additional Photos Courtesy of Carlsen Gallery, Inc.
FREEHOLD, N.Y. — In September 1991, Russ and Abby Carlsen conducted their first auction at what was then their new gallery, just past the town center of Freehold on Route 32. For those who have attended a Carlsen auction in person, you will recall that this area is surrounded by a whole lotta nuthin’ — or as Russ says, “Even the blanket chests out here come with feet on them.”
The Carlsens — on this special day, September 18, 2016, 25 years later, Russ and Abby were joined by son Josh and daughter Kayla — recalled that the late Allan Dixon manually recorded that first auction. There were no computers, no website, no internet nor phone bidding and the buyer’s premium was five percent.
They recalled that George H.W. Bush was president, the average annual income was $29,430, and the average monthly rent was $495. The cost of a gallon of gas was $1.12, a pound of bacon was $1.95 and a dozen eggs 85 cents.
Here is another telling statistic unearthed by Abby, which she related while laying out a sumptuous table of goodies for the firm’s 25th anniversary preview party conducted the day before the auction: “I learned that the average lifespan of a small business in New York is seven years!”
Even better reason to feel festive as the Carlsens readied several collections of American and continental furniture, fine and decorative art objects, silver and estate jewelry. “It was a well-attended sale, with probably about 200 in the crowd,” Russ told Antiques and The Arts Weekly afterwards. “It was one of the biggest crowds in the house we have seen in some time.”
Two important American furniture and accessory collections headlined this auction. One was the collection of Mr and Mrs. Allen Freedman, avid New York City collectors of period furniture from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. From this source came pieces from the workshops of Duncan Phyfe and Michael Allison, with Israel Sack and Bernard and Dean Levy provenance. In addition, there were the American furniture and accessories collected over two generations by the late Robert Avery Smith, a prominent Vermont dealer, and his son Avery Smith. These included Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century antiques and Americana, including American School portraits, a blue barrel back cupboard and choice examples of Windsor chairs.
Items from the Freedman collection ruled the day, and it was outstanding furniture that led the way. “There is still a lot of activity in this category when you offer the cream of the crop,” said Russ. The top lot was a circa 1805 lyre-based carved New York Federal card table in mahogany, attributed to Michael Allison, 36 inches wide, which sold for $15,600, above its high estimate of $12,000. Michael Allison (1773–1855) and his brother Richard (1780–1825) were contemporaries of Duncan Phyfe (1768–1854) and had their respective cabinetmaking shops in New York City. The card table was won by a Virginia dealer bidding by phone.
A card table attributed to Phyfe was in New York Federal style and featured a “trick leg” that Russ Carlsen demonstrated during preview. Trick legs point to the sides when the table is closed, and when open they turn 45 degrees to the rear to provide a stable tripod base. This 36-inch-wide example, also from the Freedman collection, had provenance to American fine art and antiques dealer Bernard & S. Dean Levy and finished at $10,800.
Also by Phyfe, an important pair of scroll back side chairs, circa 1810, with carved paw feet and legs proved irresistible to a bidder who brought them from the Freedman collection into his or her own for $10,200.
And the Freeman collection contributed a 31-inch inlaid Hepplewhite bowed end Pembroke table to the sale. The circa 1790 piece, featuring bellflower and conch shell and line inlays, had the name Calhoun in script on the underside of the top. It brought $9,000.
Consigned to the auction by Avery Smith, son of the late Vermont dealer Robert Avery Smith, was a rare family of four American School portraits. They were possibly Prior Hamlin School portraits, according to the gallery, two measuring 28 by 24 inches and two at 24 by 20 inches. These also went out at $9,000, beating their $3/6,000 presale estimate.
Three more notable furniture lots, all from the Freedman collection, contributed to the success of this sale. One was a Philadelphia classically carved marble top pier table with original stencil decoration, attributed to Anthony Quervelle, 38½ inches wide by 19 inches deep and 38 inches high, which was bid to $8,400. Another pair of formal chairs, New York diamond back Chippendale examples, circa 1760, with ball and claw feet, fetched $7,800; and a New York Federal period work table, 27½ inches wide, attributed to Phyfe or Allison, circa 1820, took $7,200. The latter featured an adjustable writing surface, work bins with marbleized paper and classically carved paw feet.
There was much interest presale and at preview in a near complete set of 1933 Goudey baseball cards (missing were numbers 57, 92 and 106) for a total of 237 cards. In 1933, Goudey produced a 240-card set, also called “Big League Chewing Gum.” These cards, issued with bubble gum in each pack, were the first baseball gum cards and as such belong to the hallowed collectibles “Big Three” baseball card sets, along with the T206 and 1952 Topps sets. Estimated $3/10,000, the set turned in a reasonable performance at $7,200.
Although the furniture dominated the top tier prices, the overall auction was well rounded, with notable results in several other categories, such as fine and decorative arts. Rounding out the sale’s top ten lots, a bronze by expatriate American sculptor of the Beaux-Arts school Frederick William MacMonnies, 1894, depicting a “Bacchante and Infant Faun,” 33¼ inches tall and marked Roman Bronze Works, brought $6,900. A larger version of this sculpture resides in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its bronze was cast in 1894 and measures 84 inches by 29¾ inches.
An oil on canvas, “Hauling Nets,” signed Anton Otto Fischer, was bid to $4,200, more than twice its high estimate, and an unsigned Old Master painting of exotic birds from a Greenwich, Conn., estate generously proportioned at 31 by 51 inches, realized $6,000, again doubling its high estimate.
Fittingly for the 25th anniversary auction, there were silver highlights too. A Georg Jensen silver tea service with tray went out at $6,000 and a seven-piece sterling silver Gorham coffee and tea set in the “Maintenon” pattern with hot water kettle and tray, approximately 324 troy ounces, finished at $5,400.
Lighting contributed some stars, including a pair of classical argand lamps with one replacement shade and all else original and untouched, marked Alfred Welles & Co., Boston, which finished at $4,200, and a solar lamp that made $3,600.
An optometrist trade sign and clock, 51 inches tall and 36 inches wide, brought $6,000, and, among Oriental carpets offered, an antique Bidjar room-sized example took $4,500.
Like all general line sales, there were bargains to be had. A lucky bidder took possession of a Nineteenth Century American School portrait of a girl in white for just $840 against a $1/2,000 estimate. An exuberantly designed Venetian glass six-arm chandelier, approximately 52 by 46 by 24 inches, will decorate someone’s palazzo, also going out for $840, this time against a $2/4,000 estimate.
And while there were no six-figure showstoppers at this milestone sale — the Carlsens recall their priciest lot over the past 25 years as being a marble fireplace that was identical to one in the Louvre’s collection that sold for about $250,000 — it was a solid event made all the more enjoyable by the many longtime friends and clients who came to share in the celebration. “It was heartening to have such a well-attended sale to mark the occasion,” said Russ.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 518-634-2466 or www.carlsengallery.com.
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