Published: May 15, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Tremont Auction Gallery
NEWTON, MASS. – The first day of Tremont’s spring sale, April 28-29, comprised entirely historic military firearms and accessories. The sale was built around 159 lots from the three-generation collection of the Dunn family and included material from other consignors as well. The second day included a strong selection of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century silver, more than 100 paintings, jewelry, Oriental rugs and more. The sale grossed just under $700,000, finishing at $699,660. Bidding was available on two internet platforms, several phones lines were in use and bidders in the room were active and often successful.
Francis Earl Dunn started collecting guns in the 1930s. He documented what he knew about the pieces he bought, he kept receipts, noted sources, and all his notes have survived. Unfortunately, the family apparently was unaware of the value of that kind of documentation and did not supply most of it to Keith Downer, who wrote Tremont’s catalog, until just a few days before the catalog had to go to the printer. Downer, brother of gallery principal Brett Downer, is a serious firearms collector, is involved in military reenactments, is a knowledgeable researcher and prepared a detailed, informative catalog, with color photographs and careful descriptions of the condition of each piece. Additional color photos were included with the online catalog. The documentation that the family provided was available at the preview and will be given to purchasers, so that history and provenance is not lost. Interestingly, the documentation includes several letters written to Dunn’s widow shortly after his death, offering to buy certain items from the collection, with the prices purchasers would have been willing to pay. Nearly all of those offers were declined.
Topping the Dunn collection and also the highest priced item in the two-day sale was a rare flintlock seven-barrel Henry Nock volley musket, which brought $39,780, well over the estimate. These guns, which fired the seven barrels from a single flintlock with a single pull of the trigger, were used for a short time in the late Eighteenth Century by Britain’s Royal Navy. They were designed to be fired at close range, after warring ships had come alongside one another. However, the recoil from seven barrels firing at the same time made it almost impossible to use the gun. Tremont’s example survived without repairs, conversion or replaced parts. Its final price, according to Tremont, may have been a record for that type of gun, and internet research does not indicate any higher prices.
Three other weapons from the Dunn collection each sold for $7,020. One was a Seventeenth Century unmarked matchlock musket that had some replacements. Another was a high-grade Germanic wheellock rifle with a heavily carved stock picturing a bear, a stag and a fox. In addition, the stock had wire inlays. Bringing the same price was a rare J.B. Barrett Confederate muzzle-loading rifle. It was in original condition, and Dunn’s notes indicate that he had bought the rifle in 1937. A bench-made Civil War sniper’s rifle weighing more than 30 pounds realized $9,360. The barrel was stamped “W. Billinghurst Rochester N.Y.” William Billinghurst (1807-1880) was a prominent gunsmith in Rochester, producing, among other weapons, hunting rifles for the emperor of Brazil and other royal hunters. Dunn bought it in 1937.
The first gun sold from the Dunn collection had been bought in the 1930s from a well-known White Mountains “character” gun dealer, known as “Schiff the gunman.” He was active in the Woodstock, N.H., area for more than 30 years, starting in the 1920s and actively advertised in early collector magazines such as Hobbies. The gun was a Nathan Moll-style flintlock rifle that had been made in Pennsylvania by Joseph Golcher. It sold for $1,053.
Several of the paintings sold on the second day came from the large collection of Jim Pantages, who worked for the Quincy, Mass., public works department for many years. He never married, spent his weekends buying paintings, collected for more than 30 years and amassed a collection of more than 1,200 paintings and sculptures. He frequently said, “I just bought things I liked,” and the collection filled his Quincy home. Tremont sold only a few pieces from the collection. The rest will be dispersed by Peter Smith, The Plymouth Exchange, Plymouth, Mass., over the coming months. One of the paintings, an Orientalist scene by Dean Cornwell (1892-1960), realized $9,360. Cornwell was a prominent illustrator and muralist, a member of the National Academy and an instructor at the Art Students League, whose work has been commemorated on a US postage stamp. The sale included three paintings by Henry Faulkner (1924-1981), all of which sold well over the estimates, with a large, colorful still life bringing $10,530. A small garden scene reached $6,435, and a whimsical scene with two women went out at $7,605. One of the higher priced paintings was a landscape by Danish artist Christen Kobke (1810-1848), which reached $14,040. Works by the artist hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty and several European museums.
About 100 lots of silver started the second day. Bidders in the room bought several lots, and internet bidders also succeeded on several lots. An exceptional Nineteenth Century large torah crown with repousse floral designs, an eagle finial and three bells had several continental hallmarks. It sold under the estimate, reaching only $1,989. A collection of silver butter dishes was included and several exceeded estimates. A Tiffany and Co. example with a pheasant finial reached $1,053, and a mechanical example by A.H. Miller, Chicago, dated 1866, finished at $1,521. A Duhmne sterling silver japonesque pitcher with iris flowers and fruit in relief was bid to $2,106.
There were numerous interesting items throughout the sale. A Tiffany & Company 18K gold Russian-style walking stick with a jade handle brought $3,744. Its carved jade handle was an eagle set with red jewel eyes. Selling for $7,605 was a round Nineteenth Century Italian micromosaic table. It had a large central panel, flanked by six smaller panels, all depicting Roman views and with borders of lapis and malachite. A double student lamp, attributed to Tiffany Studios, with a Moorish design and cased green glass shades reached $1,872. You might not expect to buy beetles at a Tremont auction but you could this time. A case with more than 40 mounted tropical beetles, the largest of which was more than 6 inches wide, sold for $351. A yellow-green Daum pate-de-vere vase with amber flowers seemed low at $205. A small collection of pens included a Mont Blanc limited edition Jules Verne ballpoint pen in its original case, which brought $585. Also doing well, finishing at $7,020, was a sixth plate ambrotype of a Civil War African American soldier with a knife and revolver in his belt.
Afterwards, Brett Downer said that the sale had done well. “I think the prices for the firearms were probably as high as they could have been,” he stated. “We had a good crowd for that part of the sale, but I was a little nervous before we started on Sunday because there were so few in the room. As happens these days, that didn’t matter. Internet and phone bidders were active, and things went well. There was some softness in the paintings, but the silver and jewelry did well. We’re going to be relocating to Wayland, Mass., in the next few months and hopefully we’ll get the licensing necessary for us to sell more modern firearms. I’d like to grow that portion of our business since there really haven’t been many firearms auctions west of Boston. My brother, Keith, will help us with that specialty.”
Prices are given with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For information, www.tremontauctions.com or 617-795-1678.
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