Published: November 22, 2016
Review by Andrea Valluzzo, Photos Courtesy Millea Bros. Ltd.
BOONTON, N.J. — There was no stand-up-and-take-notice item that sold for huge money but lots of good stuff overall that brought good prices, often well over estimate, making for another solid performance by Millea Bros Ltd at its fall auction November 3–5.
“We were super pleased. The sale did over the high estimate at $1.5 million. Nothing that broke six figures, but plenty of things in the five figures and just good provenance overall,” said Michael Millea, who, along with his brother, Mark, runs the auction house. Their twice-a-year cataloged three-day sales, usually fall and spring, typically come in around this total.
Chinese arts made up the bulk of the first session and provided the sale’s top lot overall, a Nineteenth Century, Chinese jade and hardwood low table having hardstone elements, 18 by 30½ by 44¾ inches that leaped past its $2/3,000 estimate to attain $48,000.
The table was a nice surprise for the auctioneers. “We thought it was very nice and it came out of an estate that was nice but not a known name. We had gotten a few nice things here years ago though,” Michael said, noting the table, not surprisingly, is headed back to China.
Offering auction bidding on four online platforms, including its own, which debuted for this sale, Michael noted in-house attendance has been down at sales the last few years while online bidding has really picked up. The phones were competitive in the sale also.
“I know these platforms perform differently for different auctioneers. I have to tell you Bidsquare was a lot stronger this time. For us its classically LiveAuctioneers far and away [as the best performer]. I thought both Invaluable and Bidsquare were more competitive this time,” he said, noting a lot of their best buyers are bidding via the Internet.
The auction featured several strong collections that seemed to supply most of the sale’s top ten highlights, including the collection of noted art critic and historian Clement Greenberg, the estate of a Texas oil heiress and socialist whose curated collection of Twentieth Century and antique decorative arts was acquired from local and international sources; the collection of renowned Americana collector Charles E. Sigety; and the Ford Foundation in New York City, established by Edsel and Henry Ford. The latter foundation, which is focused on human rights and welfare, also has a philanthropic interest in the arts, and its own collection was sourced from American and European dealers.
“Provenance really played a part here. It’s always been important for the big auction houses, but at the regional houses it’s become more important than previously,” Michael said. “We are always asked, ‘Where does this come from?’ and ‘Where did that come from?’ We sold some things with great provenance,” he added.
The Ford collection, for example, provided one lot comprising two architectural renderings by Victor Louis, (French, 1731–1800), that made $20,400, well over its $600/800 estimate, and a
pleasing carved marble statue of a classical maiden. The latter was cataloged as Italian baroque or earlier, but Michael suspects the dating as even earlier. Buyers must have thought so, too, as they ignored the $1/1,500 estimate and pushed the price to $28,000.
Of the Texas heiress’s estate, Michael said she had decorated an apartment in Rome in the Egyptian Revival stuff and her Revival spinet piano was quite the surprise when it fetched $19,200 as it was in rough shape, although it was highly decorative. “We [initially] thought it was unmarked, but the writing stenciled in paint on the inside of the lid was so worn down, you could barely read it. It turned out to be earlier than we had cataloged it, early Nineteenth Century. It was not just bought for decorative value but it was a rare instrument.”
Another nice surprise was how well English furniture performed, Michael said, noting a pair of Regency-style, brass-mounted bookcases tripled high estimate to earn $3,900. “You have to ride out the bumps as an auctioneer. Something brings $10,000 and then you’re selling something for $100. Your have to deal with the market, the way it fluctuates. We did have more than 100 lots that brought over $3,000 each. For me, that’s how I gauge a good sale.”
The Charles Sigety collection also found favor with buyers. The late collector of Americana was known for his acquisitions of Norman Rockwell art as well as important historic documents. “All that stuff did very well; he had nice taste,” Michael said. Highlights included a charming KPM porcelain plaque in fantastic condition, depicting a cherub with pugs, that took $19,200, along with a large bronze of Paul Revere after Cyrus Edwin Dallin and an Antonio Jacobsen painting, each bringing $10,800.
Midcentury items also performed well, with the Karl Springer items performing well and a Paul Evans faceted burl wood cabinet going out above estimate at $19,200.
All prices reported include the percent buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.milleabros.com or 973-377-1500.
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