Published: November 29, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Freeman’s
PHILADELPHIA – In the course of just a few hours on Tuesday, November 15, Freeman’s realized more than $3.5 million in two sales of Americana. The first, a boutique sale of just two dozen lots of American books and manuscripts, achieved $2,726,424 with 83 percent of lots selling and exceeding the sale’s $2 million high estimate. That sale was immediately followed by 226 lots of American furniture, folk and decorative arts in a sale that achieved $792,130, within estimate, with 180 lots finding new homes for a sell-through rate of 80 percent.
Books & Manuscripts
“It was a small sale, but great,” noted Freeman’s books and manuscripts department head, Darren Winston. “I’m very happy with it.” Among many reasons Winston had to be happy was the result for the sale’s top lot, $2,389,500 for a letter written and signed by George Washington to Thomas Jefferson. The letter had been written on September 18, 1787, the day after the Constitutional Convention adopted the US Constitution, which Washington sent alongside a now-lost Dunlap & Claypoole copy of the Constitution. By personally sending one of the newly printed Constitutions, including the covering Resolutions just a day after the convention’s adjournment, Washington wanted to be the first to break the silence to Jefferson, who had been a guiding voice of the Founding Fathers but had been left out of the final negotiations because he was in Paris as minister to France.
In 1816, the letter was given by Jefferson to Amos J. Cook, preceptor of Fryeburg Academy, Freyburg, Maine. It then passed to Frederick Blanchard Osgood, who was a trustee of the school. Nearly doubling the lot’s high estimate, the result is the second highest record for a signed letter by Washington and is a significant improvement over the $273,600 the letter realized when it was sold by Osgood’s descendants at Christie’s in 2006, when the seller had acquired it. Winston said that the buyer of the document was a private collector who intends to eventually make it accessible to the public.
If Winston missed setting a record with the Washington letter, he achieved one with the $126,000 result for a copy of the Constitution that is published by The Pennsylvania Herald, and General Advertiser on September 20, 1787; notable because it was the first time the entirety of the text was published on just on one side. Winston said it was the only known example outside of an institution; it was sold by a private collector and acquired by another private collector.
We are living in a time when political events can be relayed minute-by-minute so the next highest result – $35,280 – is particularly interesting. A group of three letters, written February 6, 17 and 18, 1801, from Massachusetts congressman Ebenezer Mattoon to his friend, Northampton, Mass., judge Samuel Henshaw. Each letter details the ongoing political upheaval resulting from the undecided presidential election of 1800, and an important descriptive account of the House of Representative’s voting process to resolve the matter, which resulted in the election of Thomas Jefferson as the third president. The Mattoon letters had been on the market twice before, at Sotheby’s Parke Bernet in 1966, then again in 2015, when they were offered by Swann Galleries. Such detailed, blow-by-blow accounts are rare, and these letters may be unique in that regard, particularly as regards the Jefferson election.
A copy of the first complete English-language bible printed in the United States, in 1781-82 by Robert Aitken surpassed expectations, earning $30,240. Most surviving copies are missing pages, but the copy Freeman’s offered was complete, though some pages had been sourced from other volumes or were facsimile copies. It is additionally noteworthy as it is the only Bible to ever be endorsed by Congress.
American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts
“It was a nice sale, with some ups and downs. We have highly discriminating buyers who love things that are really historic, decorative or special. If it’s great, it will bring a great price,” said Lynda Cain, the head of Freeman’s American furniture, folk and decorative arts department. “There seems to be an uptick in interest in antiques. We’ve had so many new customers and have heard from new people in almost all areas. I was surprised at how many people came to the preview.”
“We had many more people than usual on flags, which is so interesting, particularly in this political climate,” Cain said. Flags started the American furniture, folk and decorative arts sale and earned five of the sale’s top ten prices. On offer were 35 lots, all but one from the collection of Dr Jeffrey Kenneth Kohn. As it happened, the one flag not from Kohn’s collection attracted enough interest to bump it into the lead at $53,550, more than double its high estimate. The 44-star American National flag commemorated Wyoming statehood and was dated to August 12, 1890; it had felt stars arranged in the letters “US” that had been machine-sewn to a three-part wool bunting canton. According to the catalog note, the design of the flag was patented by W.R. Washburn of Plymouth, Mass., and is one of just five or six known to exist. A private collector in the Midwest had the top bid.
From Kohn’s collection, a Civil War 34-star “Grand Luminary Shooting Star” flag that had been made 1861-63 when Kansas became a state brought $47,250 and tripled its high estimate. The 45 cotton stars of different sizes were hand sewn in a “Grand Luminary” pattern with the apex of each major arm being a “shooting star,” on a three-part wool bunting canton. The catalog entry suggested that this is the only American National Flag of any vintage to have “shooting stars.” It also found a new home in the Midwest, with a private collector.
Cain asserts that “nice furniture always brings great prices,” a maxim proved at $35,280 by a circa 1775 Chippendale carved mahogany chest on chest attributed to Ebenezer Allen Jr (1755-1793) and Cornelius Allen (1767-1835) of New Bedford, Mass. The piece had provenance to the estate of David Ford Sr and New York antique dealer Charles R. Morson Jr. It had been illustrated in the second edition of Luke Vincent Lockwood’s Colonial Furniture in America (1926) and relates to another published in Brock Jobe, Gary R. Sullivan & Jack O’Brien’s Harbor & Home Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts 1710-1850 (2009). It found a new home with a trade buyer.
A circa 1860 Rococo Revival carved oak fire company armchair certainly met the standards of “historic, decorative or special” though the specific Phoenix Fire Hose company or Pheonix Fire Insurance company was not specified in the catalog. It excited bidders who pushed it to $6,930 from a $2/3,000 estimate. It had come from the Lynchburg, Va., estate of Mark Smith.
Works made in – or celebrating – Philadelphia are perennial favorites with Freeman’s buyers, evidenced by numerous lots throughout the sale. Among those top lots were a pair of Classical revival silver ewers made circa 1830 by Philadelphia silversmith, Thomas Fletcher (1787-1866), which topped off at $9,450. Also, the quintessential Fairmount Water Works, in a watercolor on paper view from Fairmount Summit, from a Philadelphia collection that was sold alongside a Currier & Ives hand-colored lithograph titled “Fairmount Water Works,” made $8,820.
For a nautical theme, one saw strong results with what Cain described as an “exquisitely done” late Nineteenth Century cased half-hull model of the USS warship Quinnebaug (1875-1891), which sailed to $21,240 from a dealer-collector. A few increments behind it, and selling to a trade buyer for $20,160, was a mid-Nineteenth Century China Trade School view of the Bund in Shanghai Harbor that relates to a view illustrated in The China Trade Export Paintings, Furniture, Silver and Other Objects by Carl Crossman (1972), in which it is noted that “the houses and trading emporiums of the Western merchants in Shanghai were located in this quarter.”
Freeman’s next American books and manuscripts sale will take place February 2 with a large collection of Presidential autographs from the Salem, N.J., collection of Harold B. Smick.
The next American furniture, folk and decorative arts sale will take place in early May to coincide with the Philadelphia Show.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, 215-563-9275 or www.freemansauction.com.
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