Published: April 5, 2011
As auctioneer Rosie DeStories climbed the podium to begin Fairfield Auction’s annual March sale, she warmly welcomed the standing-room-only crowd and then asked, “So what do you think?” The question, in regard to Fairfield Auction’s new building and auction gallery, was met with a warm round of applause and overwhelming approval.
After having leased a warehouse in the bordering town of Newtown for the past several years, the DeStorieses had been actively seeking a place they could call their own. Open and airy, the former warehouse facility was also uncomfortable and problematic, according to Jack DeStories, hard to heat in the winter, hard to cool in the summer and not a particularly good place to display antiques. Of the new location, DeStories commented, “It is nice to be able to display things in an atmosphere that feels more like a gallery, to be able to show people what the furniture looks like in a room setting.”
With several rooms encompassing the preview area and a dedicated auction gallery, the DeStorieses are happy to be in their own “comfortable” building.
Following what DeStories referred to as a “trend that we have seen over the past three to five sales,” a large crowd was on hand for the auction. “The general sentiment of buyers seems to be much better than it was a year ago,” he said, which translated into a standing-room-only crowd and solid prices for a broad range of materials.
Preview was active, resulting in a large number of absentee and telephone bids, and also a strong contingent of bidding from the Internet.
The top lot of the auction came as a Chinese jade carving with a naturalistic scene on the white jade stone dappled with brown. Brought into the auction gallery by a picker who had unassumingly purchased the lot in his travels, the auction gallery placed a $500/700 estimate on it. Come sale time, however, substantial interest in the jade had been expressed. The lot opened for bidding at $500 and took off, with several in the gallery chasing it to the $5,000 mark. It was then that an Internet bidder jumped in, then another, and another. It was not long before the Internet bidders had pushed the price to $50,000, where it finished at $57,500, inclusive of the buyer’s premium.
“Everyone should have one of these moments in their lifetime,” stated DeStories of the picker and the jade carving. “Finding something and expecting it to sell for $500, and it ends up bringing $50,000.”
Another surprise was the China Trade oil on canvas portrait of Samuel Blanchard that had a partial label on the verso identifying the artist as “Spilum, Canton.” The oval portrait attributed to Spaoilum, measuring 17 by 13 inches, had the appearance of a pastel and carried a modest estimate of $2/3,000. With two telephone bidders on the lines, the lot opened at $2,000 and was bid actively by several in the room. At $10,000 the competition narrowed to the two telephones, although the action remained brisk right up until the portrait was knocked down at $43,125.
Another item in the sale that had an interesting story in regard to its acquisition was a whaling journal from The Columbia off of Nantucket. It had been brought in to the auction gallery by a picker who found it among the contents of forfeited items that he purchased at storage unit auction. Not quite as lucky as the buyer of the jade, the whaling journal sold to a buyer in the room between the $2,5/3,500 estimate at $3,450.
Yet another item in the auction to have an interesting story was a leather-bound book from 1783 by John Ledyard, A Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to The Pacific Ocean and in Quest of a Northwest Passage Between Asia and America. Discovered among a hoard of books in steamer trunks in a barn, it was in remarkable condition considering the state of the disintegrating trunks. DeStories recognized the book and immediately looked inside for a rare map that was originally among the pages. It was missing, haphazardly torn out with a small portion remaining behind, which set him on a wild goose chase back to the barn to search through piles upon piles of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century school books that lacked any real value.
Alas, missing the map and a portion of the title page that had been deemed lost forever, the gallery still assigned a $5/10,000 estimate. Telephone bidders again dominated the action, with the rare book bringing $8,625.
Folk art enthusiasts were not disappointed with the selection of merchandise. Highlighting the group was a paint decorated dome top box that the gallery had attributed to a Worcester, Mass., maker. In an overall bright red paint with a green painted swag decoration highlighted by yellow tassels across the front of the box and further decoration all around, the lot was viewed by a host of dealers and collectors in the crowd. A full bank of telephone bidders were ready as auctioneer Rosie DeStories set the lot into play.
Estimated at $4/6,000, the colorful box opened to the dismay of many at $9,000. Three telephone bidders tried to hit the lot at $9,500, a fourth got in a bid of $10,000. One of the initial three bidders jumped back in at $11,000, countered at $12,000 by another, and then at $13,000 by yet another. Just when all appeared to be done, the auctioneer scanned the crowd and spotted Connecticut Americana collector Tom Tafuri’s bid card stealthy raised. Hitting the lot at $14,000, Tafuri became the winning bidder, paying $16,100, including premium.
Bidders waited it out for a pair of watercolor portraits that were sold at the end of the 375-lot auction. The waist-up portrait of the gentleman was inscribed across the bottom “Hamlin F Johnson” and was dated 1844. The accompanying watercolor of the woman was done as an interior scene with a draped window and depicted the lady in a bonnet, wearing a shawl and holding a child. Estimated at $300/500, the pair were bid to $14,950.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
The next sale scheduled at Fairfield Auction is May 22. For information, 203-364-1555 or www.fairfieldauction.com .
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