Published: June 20, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Of William Smith
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – The May 29 sale at Bill Smith’s was the company’s 50th annual Memorial Day auction, a tradition began by Smith’s father. The large gallery was full with more than 400 people; dozens were standing in the back of the room. Parking lots overflowed with cars parked on the adjacent state road. Merchandise also overflowed the gallery, with some on the porches, and four vintage cars were displayed under a tent. Quality was high, Stephen Score, a dealer who does the Winter Show in New York, was there and took home the best piece of furniture, a small, circa 1770 Chippendale drop leaf tea table that sold for $26,450.
Bringing the highest price of the day was a 7.93-carat diamond ring that finished at $57,500. The sale included more good jewelry, gameboards and other folk art, exceptional country smalls, several pieces of Eighteenth Century furniture, including a large group of Pennsylvania pieces and dozens of paintings, including a collection of works by Henry Ryan MacGinnis. The day grossed just under $1 million, making it one of the company’s stronger sales.
Smith does not offer internet bidding and uses that fact to his advantage. He emphasized to the crowd that, in the absence of the internet, prices paid are not publicized. Multiple phone lines were in use, and there were numerous absentee bids left by buyers who previewed the material. Judging by the size of the crowd, it would be difficult to question Smith’s way of doing business. More than 563 bidder numbers had been given out.
Score bought the 25-inch-tall 1770-80 walnut Chippendale tea table. It had its original surface, carved feet and came from an attic in Thetford, Vt., where it had been for decades. An optimist opened the bidding at $2,000, but it progressed quickly to $26,450. Score had reminisced a little bit during the preview. “I liked it better before things like we’re looking at became commodities,” he said. “I loved it when you’d get up while it was still dark and drive to an onsite sale somewhere in the country. Maybe you knew what was there and maybe you didn’t. Sometimes you had the smell of newly cut grass where they made space for parking and you could see the stuff the way it was in the house and get the real feel of it. You could get the old smell. Maybe it was musty, maybe there was still a mouse in a drawer, but it was exciting. You knew by looking around at the audience what sort of day you were gong to have. If your regular competitors weren’t there, you knew you’d make some money. Those days are gone. Now with the internet and people on cell phones, we’ve lost that.” Although expressing nostalgic feelings, he’s changed with the times.
In addition to the table Score bought, there were other pieces of early furniture and accessories with old surfaces. An Eighteenth Century maple butterfly table with splayed legs and one drawer realized $12,075. It had turned up at a Skinner sale about 40 years ago and was bought by Lillian Cogan. A small, Nineteenth Century canted-top cupboard in old red paint finished at $3,910, and an old red surface drove a two-drawer lift top wall box with dovetailed drawers to $3,680. An early cherry chopping bowl, 23 inches long and 17 inches wide, also in old red, reached $1,380, a large twig-bound primitive tankard sold for $3,910 to Vermont dealers; and a large, Eighteenth Century hutch table, in the same color, earned $1,840.
Formal furniture included several Eighteenth Century pieces from Pennsylvania. Leading the group, selling for $3,738, was a circa 1790 Chippendale tall case clock with works signed by Chester County clockmaker Joshua Humphrey, East Whiteland. The walnut case with ogee feet was 92 inches tall.
For the most part, prices seemed low, and Smith later commented that “we do better with cherry and maple pieces.” An Eighteenth Century figured walnut birdcage tilt top table only made $575, while an attractive circa 1785 walnut tall chest on ogee bracket feet, with fluted quarter columns and key-carved molding, attained just $1,840. A New England bonnet top, Eighteenth Century mahogany Chippendale block front secretary-bookcase went out for $4,888, in spite of the fact that the entire bonnet had been replaced.
As Smith was getting ready to sell the diamond and yellow gold ring, he said that it would be the “star of the sale” and he was right. The diamond in the 18K yellow gold ring was GIA certified as 7.93 carats, J, SI2. It was just one of several fine pieces of jewelry, which were interspersed with other items throughout the sale. Results were consistently strong. A platinum ring with a 4.04-carat round diamond brought $14,950, and a 1.9-carat diamond solitaire ring finished at $8,625. Several aquamarine pieces did well, including a diamond and aquamarine pendant pin set in platinum, which reached $5,750. Its matching ring sold for $2,012.
An early signed and dated watercolor by Joseph Davis was just one of the folk art items. It depicted “John Fowler, age 43, September 7th 1831.” It had been in a Vermont collection for more than 35 years and it earned $9,775. A well-carved and painted pilot house eagle in original surface finished at $6,325, and a well-carved hardwood plaque, 36 by 19 inches, with horses, trees, flowers and snakes went for $7,188.
A large group of paintings from the estate of Henry MacGinnis (American, 1875-1962) ranged in price from $1,800 to $6,900. The artist summered in nearby Orford, N.H., lived in New Jersey and exhibited regularly with the New Hope Circle. Most of these paintings had never been offered for sale before, and his landscapes were the most sought-after of the group. Other paintings also did well, with an autumn landscape signed by William Mason Brown (American, 1828-1898), a second-generation Hudson River School artist, finishing at $21,850.
All in all, it was a good day for Smith and his staff, who run a smooth sale. After the sale, Smith agreed, saying. “We had a good mix of buyers with a lot of retail people, as well as dealers, and most of the material was fresh to the market. That’s a good combination.”
Prices include the buyers’ premium. For additional information, www.wsmithauction.com or 603-675-2549.
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