Published: May 30, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy Auction New England
MANCHESTER, N.H. – There’s a new auction company in New Hampshire – Auction New England – and it held its first sale May 20. Run by Jack O’Brien, a name well known in the New England antiques world, this debut outing was not a large sale, about 150 lots, but it included some good American furniture, paintings, Chinese export porcelain and presidential autographs.
One major consignment came from the Slater family that had been involved with the textile trade in New Hampshire. An additional major consignment came from a referral from Leigh Keno. O’Brien worked for Keno and expects that Keno will continue to refer business to the new company. All the material in the sale was fresh to the market; none of it had been offered at other auctions and none had been available through dealers.
O’Brien is 48 years old and has been a high school history teacher for 15 years. He spent a summer vacation working for Ron Bourgeault at Northeast Auctions and worked with Leigh Keno for a number of years. Antiques are his first love. He was accepted into the Wintherthur program but was unable to attend due to family commitments. The day before the sale, he said, “I’m really excited to finally be able to do this and I’d hope to do two or three good sales a year. The blockfront desk in this sale is an exceptional piece, with a solid provenance. Someone said that Wayne Pratt had sold it for $275,000. But that was in a different time – we’ll see what it brings in this market.”
This time the desk brought $23,000. It had been pictured in The Magazine Antiques in 1984, with an attribution to famed Charlestown cabinetmaker, Benjamin Frothingham. Sotheby’s sold it in 1980, Wayne Pratt sold it in 1985, and it had been in a Midwestern collection for at least a decade. O’Brien cataloged it as a circa 1760 Boston Queen Anne block front kneehole desk. His listing pointed out that there was a repair to the top, which had not been there previously, and he was uncertain as to how that would affect the price. It sold on a single bid to a phone bidder.
The sale included several signed presidential letters and similar material. A 1961 signed Truman letter, in which he discussed whistle-stop campaigning, sold for $575. An inscribed portrait of Dwight Eisenhower by famed political cartoonist Herb Block brought $230. A letter signed by NASA astronaut Edward White reached $546. White was the first American astronaut to walk in space. His signature is relatively rare. Several of the historical items were bought by Manchester dealer, Richard Thorner, who after the sale, said, “I’m quite pleased with what I bought today. Even though it was a first sale, it was well organized and ran smoothly. Jack did a good job.”
While some items were passed, there were also some that exceeded estimates. A set of nine famille rose Chinese export porcelain nesting cups, from the second half of the Nineteenth Century, went well over estimate at $3,220. An armorial Chinese export porcelain bowl, 11-5/8 inches wide, with two coats-of-arms brought $1,495. One crest was believed to be that of the Hamilton family (not further identified) and the second crest was inscribed “Il Pense.” Also doing well, and carrying on the Chinese theme, was a boxed set of 100 Underwood and Underwood stereoviews of China, which included several images of the Boxer Rebellion. The photographs were taken by the very prolific James Ricalton, perhaps Underwood’s best photographer. Ricalton traveled the world for Underwood, producing more than 100,000 photographs. He was so well known that Thomas Edison financed an expedition to the Far East so that Ricalton could search for, and bring back, samples of bamboo that Edison wanted to use as filaments when he was conducting experiments developing the light bulb. The set of stereoviews, with only one missing, was accompanied by a stereoscope, a descriptive book, a folder with eight maps, and more. The lot realized $2,473 from an internet bidder.
Also doing well was a colorful folk art portrait of a mother with her two children. The artist was not identified but written in pencil on the stretcher was the name “Elizabeth Dutche(ss?).” It doubled the high estimate, finishing at $8,050, going to one of the two phone bidders. A well-carved Haida argillite pipe reached $3,795 in spite of significant damage. It had multiple figures and was effectively mounted on a wooden base.
It was a good first outing for O’Brien and his new company. After the sale, he said, “This was a good learning experience for me. Some things did well, like prints and some of the Oriental items. I’ve spoken to most of the consignors and they told me that they’re satisfied with what we got for them. I like hearing that, so overall, it was a successful first sale. And, as I said, I learned a lot.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For more information, www.auctionnewengland.com or call 603-260-9550.
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