Published: May 16, 2023
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Freeman’s
PHILADELPHIA — As it has traditionally done, Freeman’s scheduled its spring Americana auction, featuring American furniture, folk and decorative arts, to be on view during the run of the Philadelphia Show so that collectors, dealers, curators and advisors alike can attend both events. More than 150 lots – 162 to be precise – crossed the auction block in Philadelphia on May 2, realizing a total of more than $560,000 with a sell-through rate exceeding 85 percent. It was a number department head Lynda Cain was happy with, noting she and her colleagues were working to negotiate some additional post-auction sales that would nudge both numbers upward.
“Some things did well, some didn’t; that’s an auction these days. The market can be fickle but historically significant, and rare, Americana still gets a big audience, and condition, rarity and provenance still matter. I was pleased with how we did with the furniture,” Cain said, noting that historical portraits, Chinese export and aesthetic furniture were notably strong categories, with institutional interest among the private collectors who comprised the majority of buyers in the sale.
Each of those categories had a result in the top three lots, led at $53,550 by a portrait of Miss Anne Caroline Coleman (1796-1819), painted by Thomas Sully (English/American, 1783-1872) in 1820, which is recorded in Edward Biddle & Mantle Fielding’s, The Life and Works of Thomas Sully (1969). According to the catalog’s notes, Coleman was born to Lancaster, Penn., iron manufacturer and Federalist politician, Robert Coleman and his wife, Ann Old Coleman. The family’s wealth was earned making ammunition for the Continental army. Anne became engaged in 1819 to the future president, James Buchanan (1791-1868) but when her parents disapproved of the match, she broke off the engagement, dying in Philadelphia, possibly from an overdose of laudanum. The painting had descended in the Morris-Rawle family but was, according to Cain, purchased by a Coleman family descendant, bringing the portrait back into the family.
Other historical portraits on offer that brought among the sale’s higher prices included a portrait of William Penn (1644-1718), attributed to John Wollaston (English, 1710-1775), which had been in an auction at Sotheby’s London in 1960, where it had been acquired by the seller’s family. It sold within estimate, for $10,080. Another prominent Philadelphian — David Rittenhouse (1732-1796) — whose portrait was painted by Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl (1788-1838) in which he was depicted with a clock and book, had descended in the Rittenhouse family. It sold just below the low estimate, for $9,450.
Cain said the most hotly contested lot in the sale was a 12-piece Chinese export porcelain green Quaker Farmer tea and coffee service that featured a drum form tea pot, helmet-form cream pitcher, covered sugar bowl and five coffee cups with four saucers. Most likely owned originally by Luke Wistar Morris (1768-1830) and his second wife, Ann Pancoast Morris (1764-1858), the set had descended in the Morris family. According to Cain, though there are very few surviving pieces, the set sold for $47,250 to private collectors who “have a substantial collection of Quaker Farmer.” It was the second highest price of the day.
A circa 1800 Chinese export porcelain orange Fitzhugh “Eagle” oval platter, from a service purchased and brought back to Salem, Mass., by shipping merchant, Captain William Orne (1752-1815), more than tripled its high estimate to sell for $15,120. According to the catalog note, other pieces from this service are in the collection of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the US Department of State in Washington, DC. Finishing out the category’s highlights at $13,860 was a Chinese export Tobacco Leaf porcelain soup tureen, circa 1775, which had once been owned by Mrs Paul Mellon.
Aesthetic Movement furniture comes to auction somewhat infrequently and the sale included just two pieces. Both were choice examples and the prices high enough to secure third and fourth place finishes. Closing for $20,160 was an inlaid rosewood multi-tiered table by the Philadelphia shop of A&H Lejambre, circa 1880. Discovered in a Pennsylvania private collection, and nearly identical to tables at the MFA Houston and the Detroit Institute of Art, it sold to a private collector, underbid by a trade buyer.
Following closely behind, and one of just three pieces Cain said were purchased by an institution, was a mahogany “winged cabinet” or dressing table, attributed to the Lejambre shop but made after a design by E.W. Godwin (English, 1833-1886). The piece, which came to Freeman’s from a New York collector, had been purchased in 1880 for Arthur (1852-1897) and Julie Cox Biddle (1858-1952); it descended through the family to Constance M. Biddle (1923-2005), whose letter describing the piece as that in her grandmother’s bedroom was included with the table. It topped off at $18,900, well above estimate.
The auction began with more than a dozen lots of American flags, led at $17,640 by a Civil War 34-star printed “Grand Luminary” flag, made 1861-63 to commemorate the statehood of Kansas. Other flags achieved $6,930 (48-star printed silk Whipple pattern American “Peace” flag from the collection of Jeffrey Kenneth Kohn, MD); also from Kohn was a 44-star American parade flag commemorating Wyoming statehood, that flew to $5,040.
“I got what I wanted and was very pleased,” said flag authority and dealer Jeff Bridgman, who was “very familiar with [the Kohn collection]” and said he purchased the Whipple pattern flag, calling it “the best of the varieties produced and [which] was in great condition for that style.”
A grouping not usually seen was a selection of 21 pieces of Georgian “Lover’s Eye” jewelry (rings, stickpins, brooches and pendants), divided into nine lots and all from the Manney Collection, which attracted a lot of attention. “We had some wonderful prices for the ‘Lover’s Eye’ pieces,” Cain said, further noting their appeal lies not only in their modernity and timelessness but also to the sense of mystery. “We have a number of young collectors; they love to try them on.” Prices for the “Lover’s Eye” jewelry ranged from $2,142 (for a group of three brooches) to $8,190, which won two pendants and a brooch.
Cain said Freeman’s will feature an Americana sale in November as they usually do but will also conduct an American Collects sale in September, the dates of both are to be determined.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, www.freemansauction.com or 267-414-1261.
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