Published: December 30, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy Duane Merrill & Co. Auctioneers & Appraisers
WILLISTON, VT. – The temperature was up to seven degrees by the time Duane Merrill’s sale got underway on December 20, the first of a two-day sale. It was a clear day, so if you like snow covered meadows and snow-capped mountains, you would have liked the ride. Apparently New Englanders liked the day, as the salesroom was full when the sale got underway. Several of the top lots of the day came from a “camp” near Lake Placid, N.Y., in the Adirondacks. Three large portraits from that home, by a Serbian artist, combined to bring over $45,000. Not surprisingly, Merrill’s has developed a niche selling paintings by Vermont artists also and had a nice selection for this sale, with a gentleman in the room buying several. Painted Vermont furniture, along with folk art, quality Victorian furniture, jewelry, stoneware, and a variety of other merchandise filled out the sale. The second day of the sale included vintage clothing, books, ephemera, collections of porcelain figures, early porcelain license plates, box lots and much more. On both days, there were numerous absentee bids, and phone lines and the internet were also active.
The wealthy owner of the Lake Placid camp, a doctor who lived to be 90 years old, was married three times and had large portraits painted of each wife and other family members. As the story goes, the third wife took some of the earlier portraits down when the house was being remodeled but carefully put them in the attic, where they remained for years until this sale. Bringing the top price of the two-day sale, $21,850, was a 78 by 48-inch portrait of Mary Hinkley-Bergamini, dated 1926, by Serbian artist Paul Ivanovitch (Joanovits) (1859-1957). A 56-by-40-inch 1929 portrait by the same artist, of Mrs L. Wood, realized $14,950. A slightly smaller portrait of Jack Hinkley by the same artist sold for $9,775. Interestingly, there were three sons in the family and each had three wives, so there were plenty of portraits.
Several paintings by Vermont artists found new homes. There were two oils by Thomas Curtin (1899-1977). One showed a winter scene of a Vermont village with ice-covered boulders along a stream and several ice-encrusted buildings, including a church. It earned $4,313, and the other, of a covered bridge in Waterville, Vt., earned $1,955. Curtin was one of the Rockport, Mass., school of painters, friendly with Emile Gruppe and Aldro Hibbard. Other Vermont paintings included three by Bessie Drennan (1882-1961), who painted in a primitive style. Bringing the highest price of the three was a very colorful winter scene of night skaters under a full moon. It sold for $3,738. Another of Drennan’s works, also a winter scene, brought $2,645. Works by other Vermont artists included pieces by Walton Blodgett and Rett Sturman, which generally sold for less than $1,000. Several of the Vermont paintings were bought by a gentleman in the room. When asked, he said he had been collecting paintings for more than 50 years, and for the last 15 years or so, had been concentrating on works by Vermont artists. “I have quite a few. Don’t ask how they’re displayed.”
American furniture was led by an Eighteenth Century bracket base tiger maple Rhode Island tall chest. It had an old finish, stamped brass escutcheons and the secondary woods were chestnut and pine; it realized $7,475. A scarce banjo clock by a Vermont maker, Abbot and Freeman of Montpelier may have been a bargain, bringing $920. According to John Delaney’s website (http://delaneyantiqueclocks.com), Samuel Abbott was a Boston clockmaker who moved to Montpelier about 1830 and formed a partnership with a Mr Freeman. The clock was missing its gilt finial. Prices for Vermont furniture were surprisingly soft. A circa 1820 upholstered Regency sofa, attributed to John Warner of Manchester, Vt., based on its carving, reached $460. A similar example is in the Bennington Museum. A colorful, ornate, Nineteenth Century grain-painted two-drawer blanket chest reached only $360. Auctioneers readily admit that beds are not easy to sell these days, but Merrill had a shell carved tiger maple four-post queen-sized bed made by Eldred Wheeler, and it went out for $1,840, more than twice the estimate. Another piece by Wheeler, which also sold over the estimate, was a tiger maple linen press that ended up at $920.
Among the strong prices of the day was an unusually small circa 1900 Louis Vuitton steamer trunk or jewelry box, with a paper label reading “The No 1 Rue Scribe in Paris.” It had brass mounts, studded wooden straps, a removable tin liner, as well as top and side leather carrying straps. It was in excellent condition and was only 11 inches wide; it sold for $8,050. Bringing the same price was an early Twentieth Century Black, Starr, & Frost Gorham sapphire, diamond, and platinum bracelet. It had 18 graduated round-cut sapphires, and it was set with 120 round-cut diamonds. Not far behind was a circa 1940 emerald jadeite, diamond and platinum ring with a 26-carat cabochon emerald jadeite. It was set with diamonds and platinum and had been purchased in China in the first half of the Twentieth Century and sold for $6,900. There were several other pieces of jewelry from local estates.
Folk art objects provided some of the highlights of the sale. A cigar store figure of an Indian princess with an old surface reached $4,888. Bidding for the princess was active, with a bidder in the room competing with phone and internet bidders. Three bidders in the room competed for a wonderful homemade, wooden horse weathervane in weathered old red paint. It had a sheet iron tail and sold well beyond its estimate, finishing at $3,738. It had been found years ago in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The buyer, a dealer in the room, will be taking it back to the Northeast Kingdom. Also finishing far above the estimate was a Nineteenth Century carved and gilded pilot house eagle with a 47-inch wingspread. The well-carved eagle went to an internet bidder for $7,245.
A few days after the sale, Ethan Merrill commented “I think we had a good sale. With very few exceptions, everything sold. The Lake Placid estate had very interesting things, including all those portraits that we found under the eaves in the attic. We’ve been developing the market for Vermont painters for some time now, and we had a good selection in this sale. They’re affordable, and many of the scenes are easily recognized. Eldred Wheeler furniture did well, but I thought prices of some of the better Victorian furniture we had was soft. I thought the Vermont banjo clock would do better than it did – we don’t see those very often. But all in all, Dad and I are pleased.”
Duane Merrill & Co Auctioneers & Appraisers is at 137 James Brown Drive. For additional information, 802-878-2625, or www.merrillsauction.net.
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