Published: September 22, 2015
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack,
Catalog photos Courtesy William Smith Auctions
PLAINFIELD, N.H. — A standing-room-only crowd was on hand for Bill Smith’s Labor Day auction. There were several strong prices along with a number of bargains, some scooped up by out-of-town dealers. Smith does not use any of the Internet bidding platforms. That way, he says, he is certain that buyers have examined what they’re buying and it draws crowds to the salesroom. His sale listings do not include estimated prices, and he does not publish a list of prices realized, believing that what a buyer pays for something should be a private matter. That announcement drew a round of applause.
The sale included good estate jewelry, European furniture and accessories, several Meissen figural groups, Asian arts, silver, American furniture, a 1934 Dodge sedan, numerous American and continental paintings and weathervanes. Several phone lines were in use and there were numerous absentee bids.
Prior to the sale, Lori Carmen, the firm’s office manager, told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that this sale had attracted numerous requests for phone bidding and left bids. She said that there were bidders signed up in Bangkok, London, Budapest, Scotland and Canada. Auction staff, including Leon Rogers, gallery manager, had been quite busy answering questions and providing condition reports for buyers unable to attend the sale. There were also many more absentee bids than they usually process. Carmen said, “I always ask new bidders how they heard about the sale. Nine out of ten reply they saw our ads in The Bee.”
A 66-inch pair of French bronze candelabras with Orientalist figures led the sale, selling for $86,250. They were done in 1872 by Emile-Coriolan-Hippolyte Guillemin (French, 1841–1907). Guillemin’s father was also a sculptor and tutored his son. His work is in several museum collections, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Smith had several nice pieces of estate jewelry, and two in particular did quite well. A mid-Twentieth Century Burmese ruby and diamond ring set in platinum brought $23,000. The ruby was 4 carats and was certified as natural by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Also selling for $23,000 was an emerald and diamond ring, it, too, set in platinum. The GIA-certified emerald was 4.06 carats and the side diamonds were 1.47 carats, total weight. According to Smith, the emerald had cost $50,000 when it was bought 25 years ago. Rolex watches may have been good buys. A stainless steel Oyster Perpetual Datejust man’s watch with chronometer went out at $2,300, and a similar lady’s model with Roman numerals and a diamond accented dial fetched $2,875. When first introduced in 1945, the Datejust models were the first wristwatch in the world to have the ability to display the date as well as the time.
Many of the items in the sale came from a New York City apartment that belonged to serious antiques collectors, and several top lots came from a New Hampshire home. Both consignors bought from several of New York’s finest dealers, and, unfortunately for them, they were buying at the top of the market. For example, they bought a pair of New England Federal period tiger maple lolling chairs from Guy Bush. The bill of sale, with an unconditional guarantee, was included with the chairs and it indicated that the selling price of the chairs had been $185,000. But that was a different time and place, and this time they sold for $20,125. As Smith was selling the chairs, he said that he had told the consignors that the price would be far lower than what they had paid. The story would be similar for a set of eight carved back, tiger maple dining chairs with saber legs. A receipt that accompanied the chairs indicated they had been purchased at the Winter Antiques Show a number of years ago at a cost of $85,000. The set finished at $5,175.
Results were mixed on other pieces of American furniture. There were several pieces of Southern furniture and some seemed like bargains. An Eighteenth Century yellow pine hanging corner cupboard with dentil molding, raised panel door and old hardware only made $1,150. A Federal three-part inlaid secretary with a bookcase top went out for $2,415, and a Federal period cherry linen press with reeded stiles fetched $3,680. A Boston Federal two-part secretary with inlays indicative of the Seymour workshop, circa 1800, earned $4,025, while an early Nineteenth Century two-part cherry corner cupboard, circa 1820, with panel doors only brought a bargain price of $690.
A Federal period tilt-top candlestand, circa 1815, with acanthus and swag carvings and an old finish brought $1,150. A slightly earlier tilt top stand from New Hampshire, circa 1800, with unusually exaggerated tall spider legs and an old finish, achieved $690. A very nice small Chippendale tiger maple slant lid desk with a stepped interior and original brasses, circa 1785, on bracket feet, earned $2,012. A New Hampshire inlaid cherry tall case clock with a rocking ship movement and a painted dial with a 14-star flag did nicely, selling for $6,900. Family history indicated that the clock came from the Concord area and the 14-star flag narrows the date down to around 1791, when the 14th state, Vermont, was admitted to the Union. The 15th state, Kentucky, was admitted in 1792.
There was strong interest in European furniture and ceramics. A striking Edwardian satinwood Carlton House desk, circa 1890, decorated in the Adams style, sold for $5,175. The term “Carlton House desk” is derived from a form designed specifically for the prince of Wales, who later became George IV. Carlton House was his official residence. The form appears in pattern books by both Sheraton and Hepplewhite. A 7-foot-long French fruitwood farm table with drawers in each end achieved $2,013. A Nineteenth Century French boulle cabinet with figural ormolu mounts went for the same price, and an exceptional Eighteenth Century Italian baroque desk, 50 inches wide, inlaid with bone and mother-of-pearl, sold for $3,738.
There were numerous Meissen groups, and several were bought by New York City dealers Bella Antiques, which specializes in European porcelains, glass and paintings. The dealers told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that they rarely leave New York to buy merchandise these days, finding that the Internet makes it possible for them to bid at auctions worldwide. They said that one of their employees was responsible for carefully going through auction ads in Antiques and The Arts Weekly to find items that they could bid on using the Internet. Since this sale was not available for Internet bidding, they decided to take the five-hour drive to Plainfield. They had a good day and the trip was well worth their effort.
Two large Nineteenth Century Meissen ewers were among their purchases. Each was 25½ inches tall. One represented “Water” and the other “Earth” — part of a piece set of the four basic elements. “Water” sold for $8,625, and “Earth” went for a little less. While the New Yorkers bought many of the Meissen lots, other bidders were often successful. A group of two maidens pulling a fishing net from the sea sold for $1,265, and another group of three figures and a donkey went out at $1,380. There were about two dozen Meissen groups. A hand painted Nineteenth Century Sevres vase, 23 inches tall and signed “Poitevin” brought $575, and a pair of Nineteenth Century Sevres covered urns with ormolu mounts sold for the same amount.
There were numerous paintings in the sale, including four by Henry Ryan McGinnis (1875–1962). He was born in Indiana, studied in Paris and spent time painting in New Hampshire, among other states. He did several paintings in the Orford area and the first one sold at this sale was the “Upper Baker Clough Farm, Orford, NH.” It was bought for $9,775 by an obviously pleased couple in the salesroom. When asked, they told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that they wanted the painting because the Clough farm was owned by members of their family. The couple, from the Orford area, said that McGinnis had done other paintings of the farm and the area, but this was only one that they had an opportunity to buy. Another of his paintings, a view in Provincetown, sold for $4,600 to friends of theirs from the same neighborhood.
The sale included more than 600 lots and ran for eight hours. There were several other interesting lots. A Norton stoneware jug with a bright blue basket of flowers finished at $3,450. A 6-gallon stoneware cooler marked Fort Edward and decorated with pecking chickens went out at $1,265. A 1934 Dodge sedan, ready to drive home, earned $9,200. A 30-inch bronze by Paul Chevre, “Separating The Cocks,” which had been exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, achieved $4,025. One of Chevre’s best known works is a monumental sculpture of Samuel de Champlain, which stands today in Quebec City. Chevre was one of the few survivors of the Titanic disaster, having made sure to get into one of the first lifeboats lowered. His four telegrams sent from the Carpathia are recorded for posterity.
A cold-painted Austrian bronze by Franz Bergman of an Orientalist figure on a wooden base finished at $4,370. Five phone bidders competed with a bidder in the room, who finally surrendered to the phone bidder. Smith had several room-sized Oriental rugs and really got the crowd’s attention when he had difficulty getting an opening on one and sold it for $100 to the person who opened the bidding. Other rugs brought somewhat more respectable prices. A set of ten nicely framed Bessler botanical prints sold for $8,625, and a coin-operated Regina music box in working condition, with 33 discs fetched $3,163. According to Smith, that “just paid for the discs.”
The sale grossed $1,050,000, and after the sale Smith told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that he was happy with the overall results. Talking about the pair of lolling chairs and the set of eight dining chairs, he said, “Those folks bought at the top of the market. They wanted the stuff sold and they knew the prices would be lower. When we spoke, they seemed satisfied. Buyers today are looking for stuff that has a little extra going for it, and when that stuff comes up, they respond positively. We’ve been doing well with European furniture, but American will come back. We’re beginning to see some life in that end of the market.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.wsmithauction.com or 603-675-2549.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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