Published: February 20, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy James D. Julia
FAIRFIELD, MAINE – The February 8-9 fine arts and Americana sale was Jim Julia’s last such event. Having merged his company with Morphy Auctions, Julia’s last sale will be a firearms sale at the end of March. These two sales mark the end of an era. Jim Julia has been conducting auctions in Maine for more than 50 years. His first sale grossed a few thousand dollars and his last one will probably bring more than $15 million. This one grossed $3.38 million as eight items brought more than $50,000, and exhibited strengths in a wide offering of fine art, an important collection of early powder horns, scrimshaw, historical memorabilia, silver, flag and much more. About a dozen phone lines were in use, internet bidding was available on two platforms, there were dozens of absentee bids and a room full of bidders.
Topping the sale was “A Lawyer,” a watercolor, drawing and pastel on canvas by Fernando Botero (Colombian American, b 1932), which earned $150,750. It is signed and dated “Botero 98” and is pictured full page in Marc Fumaroli’s Botero Drawings, published in 1999. Botero is known for showing exaggerated people, which sometimes represent political criticism. In 2004, he exhibited a series of 50 works dealing with the violence in Colombia from the drug cartels and donated the works to the National Museum of Colombia, where they were first exhibited. In 2005, he produced a large series of paintings and drawings of conditions at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. His work hangs in several museums.
Also doing well was a tempera on paper, “War Maddened Bird Following St Elmo’s Fire” by Morris Graves (American, 1910-2001). It more than doubled its estimate, finishing at $81,675. The sale included five oils by Hayley Lever (American, 1875-1958), one of which, “Fishing Boats-Sunrise,” earned $60,500. Another harbor scene by the artist brought $15,125, while a still life went out for $7,260. Other paintings that did well included “Quail and Young” by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tate (American,1819-1905), which earned $24,200, and an oil by Ralph Cahoon, “Mermaids and Sailors in a Chinese Landscape,” which reached $12,100.
Surprising many, a pair of engraved walrus tusks was the second highest priced lot of the sale, finishing at $91,960, more than ten times the estimate. The tusks, more than 27 inches tall, were signed by Nathaniel Finney, a prolific and talented engraver whose works are in Mystic Seaport and other museums. This pair was done in San Francisco, circa 1870, and depicted several prominent actors working in that area in the 1860s and 1870s. The pair was bought by an individual who asked that he be identified as “a New England collector.” He said he has other examples of Finney’s work and considers him to be one the best. Other signed Finney tusks are well known, with patriotic motifs, such as the reverse of these tusks, having portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. This pair was fresh and previously unknown to the market.
The second day of the sale began with a group of powder horns dating back to the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. As is typical of Julia’s catalogs, descriptions of these horns were detailed, often more than a page long. John Sexton, one of Julia’s firearms experts, was asked about the collection. Sexton said, “The collection was assembled over a relatively short period of time by a man on the Forbes 100 list. He could afford to buy the very best and that’s what he did.”
In most instances, the catalog estimates were ignored as the prices realized far exceeded the estimates. Such was the case with the horn that brought the highest price. It was carved with a detailed view of Charleston, S.C., and the rivers running from Charleston branching into the “Congarees,” “Saux Tee,” “Keeowee” and others. It also had a detailed figure of a soldier, two game cocks, two men dueling with swords and other scenes. Estimated at $12,000, it was won by a phone bidder paying $78,650.
The second most sought-after horn depicted scenes from the 1758 Forbes Campaign of the French and Indian War. It was engraved with a map of Pennsylvania, starting at the base in Philadelphia and moving north along the Allegheny and its forks, the Monagahny and Ohio, to Lancaster, Carlisle and the western forts. It included a drawing of Fort Pitt flying a British flag. Estimated to bring $20,000, it realized $58,080.
Another map horn of the same era, signed by the carver and belonging to Henry Livingston, a member of one of the wealthiest families of colonial New York, earned $21,780. It depicted the Hudson River north from New York with cities and forts indicated along the way to Albany and Saratoga.
Laurie LaBar, curator of history and decorative arts at the Maine State Museum, hoped to secure a Revolutionary War horn that had belonged to Robert Mercer. She believed that the horn might have been carved by a Micmac Indian in Maine, as the double curved pattern of the carving was a design often used by the Micmacs. Although the horn was estimated at $3,000, the museum was outbid as it sold for $12,075.
From the same collection, a group of native American war axes and pipe tomahawks also did quite well. Leading the selection was an early silver mounted pipe tomahawk. The catalog stated, “This is among the highlights of this estate collection, in fine condition with a 21½-inch maple haft with six silver bands and 12 silver engraved insets along with a silver mouthpiece. The well-forged head with teardrop-shaped eye also has two engraved silver insets in the blade, one being a half moon and the other a florally decorated oval. There are also filed designs on bowl and blade. This exact tomahawk is illustrated on page 34 of John Baldwin’s Tomahawks, Pipe Axes of the American Frontier, 1995 and attributed to the William Guthman Collection. This is as fine an example of a late Eighteenth-early Nineteenth Century pipe tomahawk you will encounter with great provenance coming from Guthman.”
Bidders seemed to agree as six phone lines pushed it to $37,510. A testament to the quality of this collection is the fact that of the 34 lots offered, all sold, and most over estimates.
Two important flags also did well. A 12-star Confederate 1st National flag from the Mastai collection earned $76,230. It was illustrated on Mastai’s classic reference work on flags, The Stars and the Stripes: The American Flag as Art and as History From the Birth of the Republic to the Present. Also doing well was a handsewn Confederate St Andrews Cross battle flag that achieved $70,180.
Other items of historical interest were among some of the other high-grossing lots. A solid gold Tiffany presentation snuff box presented by the citizens of Buffalo, N.Y., was inscribed to “Lt. John Worden, Hero of the Victory of The Monitor Over The Merrimac.” It was engraved with a scene from the battle and included other decorative features. It achieved $48,400.
A 200-page manuscript detailed the Navy’s rules and regulations for activities onboard the USS Constitution and the USS Congress, which were two of the Navy’s first six frigates. Both ships served in War of 1812 and the Barbary Coast Wars. It included instructions on the care of cannons, gunning and “quarters for action” and more. It is believed that the manuscript was written by a naval clerk, and the text is signed by Benjamin W. Booth, who was “Master Commandant” on the USS Constitution at that time. It went for $62,920.
It is safe to say that no one ever falls asleep when Jim Julia is at the podium. This was a fast-paced sale, and Julia was at his best, knowing that it was the next to last time that he would be selling in front of his regular audience and in front of his longtime staff members. The last opportunity to see him in action in Maine will be at his firearms sale, March 21-23.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For more information, www.jamesdjulia.com or 207-453-7125.
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