Published: November 13, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
HAMPTON, N.H. – It was a most unusual single-owner auction, and it grossed $856,000. On October 27-28, Northeast Auctions sold some of the antiques and decorative arts collected by Elizabeth Dingman and her late husband, Michael. The amount of material to be sold was large.
The Dingmans were a well-known, well-to-do couple, with homes in New Hampshire, Maine, South Carolina and elsewhere. They enjoyed collecting a wide range of material, with each home furnished differently. As a result, there was formal English furniture as well as painted American furniture. Ceramics ranged from Picasso plaques to Chinese export to European porcelains, along with less formal wares such as studio pottery stoneware. There were several silver services, each appropriate to the home in which it was used. There were Grand Tour-type marble carvings along with prints and paintings that varied from home to home.
In addition to the antiques, the couple – often with the advice of their decorators – also bought and used Twentieth Century accessories and furniture. The furniture was selected with quality and comfort in mind. There were numerous leather-covered pieces, along with many overstuffed pieces, all upholstered with quality fabrics. Michael Dingman had also collected vintage automobiles and related items, including more than 250 neon signs and a fully equipped, operational vintage diner. The final portion of that collection was sold in June and grossed more than $7 million (the collection’s three sales totaled around $17 million).
The challenge for Northeast’s Ron Bourgeault and his staff was how to present and sell the large quantity and assortment of material. Bourgeault and Elizabeth Dingman decided to conduct the auction in the same building that had housed the collection of neon signs and vintage cars. It is a large, cavernous building, ideal for cars and neon signs, but less so for decorative arts. The solution Bourgeault came up with will probably be remembered for quite some time. The Dingmans’ decorators, Christensen Design, built and papered walls so that furniture and paintings could be shown to their best, in room-style settings. The porcelains and ceramics were displayed on tablecloth-covered dining tables, some of which were decorated with holiday themes. An old horse-drawn sleigh was used for a Christmas display, complete with a decorated tree and wrapped presents. Catering was provided by the nearby Old Salt Tavern, one of the seacoast’s high-class eateries. Numerous positive comments were heard about the presentation.
Bourgeault knew that much of the material would appeal to affluent New Hampshire and Boston-area retail buyers, many of whom would also be interested to see what the Dingmans owned. Several weekly newspapers servicing the nearby towns are published by one company. Although not always used for auction advertising, for two weeks prior to the sale, the event was widely advertised in that group of newspapers. Those ads also invited readers to request free copies of the auction catalog. Bourgeault commented, “Free catalogs have always worked for me. Much of my success has come from getting as many catalogs as possible into as many hands as possible. Stuff was sold to people that have never done business with us before.” Both days of the sale had large crowds
It was also decided that the first day of the auction would be a “normal” cataloged auction with internet and phone bids. The second day was different and was advertised as an “old fashioned country auction, open to the public.” There would be no internet or phone bids on that day, but all items sold that day were on display during the preview. A total of 200 lots were separately numbered and listed for the day, plus there were many more items that were not listed and were sold after the first 200. These items were lotted either by Northeast staff or in response to customer requests. The result was a fast-moving, entertaining day with very active bidding.
Mostly from their Maine home, several pieces of painted and country furniture did well. The second highest price of the two-day sale, $28,800, was paid by a phone bidder for a Pennsylvania walnut Chippendale open top cupboard with dentil moldings, three shelves fitted with plate and spoon holders and two paneled cupboard doors with wrought iron hardware. The price was nearly twice the estimate. A step back cupboard with four paneled doors in old blue paint brought $5,280, also well over the estimate. A portrait of Dr David Ramsay of South Carolina by Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1827) brought the top price of the sale, $36,000. Ramsay, a doctor and author, was a delegate to the Continental Congress and served as chairman of the Confederation in 1785-86. He is considered one of the earliest historians of the Revolutionary War and was murdered in 1815 by a mentally ill patient he had examined. Included with the painting was an autograph letter by Ramsay to Major General Benjamin Lincoln, who was Washington’s second-in-command at the Battle of Yorktown.
Other Americana included a large, full-bodied leaping stag weathervane with zinc head and antlers, probably made by L.W. Cushing, circa 1883. It was 48 inches long, the largest available, and had a good patina. It sold under the estimate, $6,480, a good buy for someone. An engraved copy of the Declaration of Independence sold for $7,560. It was printed about 1833 by Peter Force, in “American Archives,” a work authorized by Congress to reproduce important historical documents. Force used an engraving done in 1823 by engraver William Stone, who had been authorized by John Quincy Adams to make the copy, as the 50th anniversary of the signing was approaching and the original was deteriorating. Only about 200 copies were produced in 1823, and it is believed that only about 500 were later produced by Force. Surviving copies are rare, and this one had some minor condition issues.
A circa 1815 portrait of Colonel James Mosher, president of the National Bank of Baltimore, painted by Philip T.C. Tilyard (1785-1830) earned $11,280, well above the estimate, as interest was strong in pieces relating to the South. A wood duck drake, signed, carved and painted by Elmer Crowell, almost 11 inches long, earned $12,000. A portrait of Captain Caleb Cushing holding a spyglass, attributed to Charles Delin (1756-1829), realized $8,160. The Dingmans had purchased the painting at a Northeast sale in 2001, along with other marine arts that were included in this sale. At the start of the sale, Ron Bourgeault commented, “Michael Dingman was one of my first customers.”
There were several pieces of English furniture and European decorative arts that did well. An English Chippendale mahogany tall case clock, with a dial engraved for the South Carolina retailer John Monro, realized $18,600. Monro advertised the availability of imported English watches in a Charleston, S.C., newspaper in 1795. An early Nineteenth Century mahogany George III architect’s table with an adjustable drawing surface went out for $7,680. That price was well above the estimate, as were prices for much of the Georgian furniture. The sale included three ceramic plaques designed by Pablo Picasso in the 1950s. Each was from editions of 200 and each brought about $10,000 – again, well above estimates. They went to the same buyer, who was in the room.
A few days after the sale, Ron Bourgeault said, “It was a real challenge, dealing with so much quality stuff and showing it to its best advantage. I wanted it to look somewhat like booths at an antiques show, and working with the decorator was a big help. We got the look that I hoped we would. The material was almost entirely unreserved, so very few items were passed. I wanted to have fun with the second day, and the staff did a great job making that work. As I said during the sale, Michael Dingman was one of my first big customers. I learned a lot from him, and I’m glad it worked out well for Betsy and the family. There weren’t as many dealers as I thought there would be, but those who were there got some good buys.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium, as stated by the auction house.
For information, 603-433-8400 or https://northeastauctions.com
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