Published: September 20, 2011
Northeast Auction’s annual August tribute to maritime and China Trade art and antiques is one sale that no one who loves this material misses. One way or another, the buyers are there †in the room or, increasingly, on a smart phone, tablet or laptop. This year’s sale under the tent at Treadwell Mansion drew phone interest from Europe and Australia, as well as Asia and the Middle East.
While digital tools and services are making auctions more predictable, all bets are off, however, when it comes to Asian art. From house to house and tent to tent, buyers from mainland China are keeping auctioneers guessing.
At Northeast’s August 20′1 sale, Chinese buyers competed aggressively for export silver made in Canton, Shanghai and Hong Kong in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, in some instances bidding prices to ten times their modest estimates. One buyer, New York City-based Karen Shen, told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that she represents clients in Shanghai.
Long undervalued, export silver is suddenly desirable to buyers who show little interest in export painting or porcelain. At Eldred’s Auction Gallery on Cape Cod on August 29, a magnificent dragon urn made in 1883, possibly by Luen Wu and inscribed to torpedo engineer J.D. Bishop, soared to $28,750. H.A. Crosby Forbes and John Devereux Kernan, who published on the subject of export silver in the 1970s and 1980s, now seem ahead of their time.
Prices in mature collecting categories are more predictable. Take ships portraits by James Bard (1815‱897). Northeast offered two oil on canvas pictures by the popular American artist. One, depicting the steamboat Daniel Miller , 1862, was an unspectacular likeness that came in at $61,360, near its low estimate.
“It didn’t have all the bells and whistles. Collectors like to see a steamboat with a paddle box and all the embellishments that usually obtain,” said Anthony J. Peluso Jr. The maritime paintings authority noted that Bard painted roughly 300 to 400 portraits of steamboats, but only about 50 sailing vessels.
The 1856 American Eagle , on the other hand, is a rare thing. One of only three known Bard paintings of sloops, it depicts the vessel, said to be the fastest sloop in Haverstraw Bay in its time, flying an American “Indian Peace” flag. Underbid by Cape Cod dealer Alan Granby, the picture sold to a private collector bidding by phone for $212,400 ($80/120,000), a good value considering that the best Bards commanded $250,000 just a few years ago.
One surprise in the nautical category was a view of the USS Constitution and American squadron bombarding Tripoli harbor in 1804. The unsigned sailor’s drawing made $15,340 against an estimate of $400/600 from an agent bidding on behalf of an undisclosed buyer.
Saturday’s session was packed with Chinese Export porcelain, including many pieces for the American market. Leading sales was a 127/8-inch oval orange Fitzhugh platter, $17,700, decorated with arms of the United States and dating to between 1810 and 1820. An oval warming dish went to $10,030. Similarly embellished, a pair of green Fitzhugh plates left the room at $6,490.
Rarer still were six “Fairmount Park, Philadelphia” tea wares. Finely painted in overglaze blue enamel and gold, they fetched $8,024.
Collectors were also attracted to nearly 20 pieces of desirable export china decorated with American ships, especially a lighthouse coffeepot of circa 1795. It outpaced its estimate to bring $10,300.
Heavily damaged, a porcelain soup plate from Washington’s Order of the Cincinnati service also exceeded estimate, bringing $12,980.
This year’s auction offered a bumper crop of Chinese Export paintings on canvas, paper and ivory from assorted consignors. A favorite of Northeast Auctions’ owner and auctioneer Ronald Bourgeault was an oil on canvas view of the Hongs at Canton. Painted in the 1850s and returned to America by Captain Edward R. Chase of Harwich Port, Mass., it descended in the family to sell for $23,600.
Four small watercolor on ivory port views, $38,350, included rare depictions of Penang and Saint Helena, in addition to more common Canton and Macao scenes.
Contained in gold case, a miniature portrait of a naval officer, its vibrant color still intact, brought $6,068.
Two large paintings of tea production left the room at $29,500; a view of Whampoa Anchorage reached $28,320; and a panoramic view of the American bark Hersilia in Hong Kong harbor left the room at $27,140. The painting once hung in Newport’s Harbor Court, the former summer home of John Nicholas Brown, now owned by the New York Yacht Club.
Coveted for its rarity, a Nineteenth Century Anglo Indian ivory, ebony and horn games box fashioned as a two-volume book was eagerly bid to $12,390.
Two sperm whale’s teeth engraved by a member of the Albro family, prominent Rhode Island scrimshanders, with references to a famous Newport whaling ship, the John Coggeshall , led scrimshaw sales.
Formerly in the collection of Thomas Gosnell, a 7¼-inch-long tooth that passed in last year’s auction was reoffered with a lower reserve. Probably engraved by Caleb Albro, it sold this time to a phone bidder for $63,720. A 6½-inch engraved Albro tooth went for $44,250.
A pair of 7¼-inch teeth engraved by an unidentified artist with portraits of Washington and Lafayette fetched $29,500. Northeast Auctions consultant John Newcomer discovered the pair of teeth at a museum appraisal day in West Virginia nearly two years ago.
Authentic ships’ figureheads are scarce, thus the appearance of a well-documented example salvaged from the 1863 British clipper ship Coonatto was cause for excitement. Planted in an English garden, where it suffered damage, the carved and painted figure of a woman surfaced at Osona Auction in 2008 where it sold for $42,920. It resold for $44,840 to an Australian buyer underbid by Paul De Coste.
“The front was solid and the detailing was crisp. A full figurehead in a classic form can be worth $200,000 and up,” said De Coste, a West Newbury, Mass., dealer in marine antiques.
Of seven oil on board or Masonite paintings by Ralph or Martha Cahoon, a 1968 example by Ralph was the most competitive. Titled “Sailor’s Delight,” it achieved $25,960. Five Cahoons passed.
Total sales on 970 lots reached approximately $2.4 million.
“A tremendous amount of material went retail, which I think is exciting. People are realizing that they can buy well and affordably,” said Bourgeault, who will be back at the podium in Portsmouth the weekend of November 12‱3.
Prices include the 18 and 10 percent buyer’s premium. For information, 603-433-8400 or www.northeastauctions.com .
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