Published: March 22, 2022
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Leland Little
HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. – Diamond rings are a staple of estate auctions but they generally elicit not much in the way of excitement. From the personal collection of an Indiana family physician and his wife and by descent, however, a size 6 platinum and diamond ring came with a story of a long marriage and led Leland Little’s March 12 Signature spring auction. Meeting in high school and later marrying while the groom was in medical school, the couple enjoyed a loving and devoted 73-year marriage. The ring centered on a prong-set round brilliant cut diamond weighing 5.05 carats, L color, I1 clarity, and was accented to shoulders with a tapered baguette cut diamond weighing approximately .70 total carat (J-K color, VS clarity). Estimated $11,5/21,500, the ring was bid to $32,500.
From the same family came a gold and diamond necklace that sold for $28,800. Its prong set round brilliant cut diamond weighing 4.25 carats (I color, I1 clarity) centered on a yellow gold wheat chain completed with a box clasp with figure eight safety and was signed Dankner 14K.
Do such love stories have an effect on prices? “Buyers do absolutely believe in the spirituality of a piece of jewelry,” said Nancy Blount, the firm’s jewelry and textiles director. “The backstory of the pieces coming from a relationship of such longevity and devotion definitely worked in the pieces’ favor.”
Overall, the sale saw strength in both jewelry and fine art, according to Leland Little, president and auctioneer. “We saw the strongest results across our jewelry and fine arts categories, signaling the strength of our market in those areas,” he commented. “We were pleased to see continuity of a growing percentage of first-time bidders and buyers here at Leland Little, this auction being no different with 21 percent of buyers being first-timers.”
Total bidders were 505, with 143 becoming successful buyers and 63 first-time bidders and 31 (21 percent) first-time buyers. The auction total was $1,044,960 with a sell-through rate of 97.6 percent.
More jewelry highlights unfurled as an unmounted cushion brilliant cut diamond with platinum mount brought $22,800, featuring a diamond weighing 2.02 carats (G color, VVS1 clarity), accompanied by its original platinum bezel setting mount.
Bidders also liked a lady’s Patek Philippe stainless steel and diamond Aquanaut watch, taking it from a $5/8,000 estimate to $22,800.
Fetching $19,800 was a large Japanese Koban 150g 24K gold ingot from the Twentieth Century containing approximately 5.30 ounces of gold, presented in a velvet-lined, fitted wooden box.
Fine art in the sale was led by an acrylic on canvas by Maud Gatewood (1934-2004) titled “County Line – Creek Rising,” 1976, from a private Charlotte, N.C., collection, which realized $25,200. It is entering a private collection in South Carolina. Gatewood was the daughter of a Caswell County sheriff, born and raised in the rural town of Yanceyville, N.C. She exhibited widely throughout the Southeast, and her work is now one of the most collected and sought-after of North Carolina artists. She is represented in numerous public and private collections, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, N.C.; Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, N.C.; and others.
Also notable was Joan MirÃ³’s (Spanish, 1893-1983) “Le Cracheur de Flammes (The Flame-Spitter),” an etching and aquatint in colors with carborundum, 1974, which earned $23,400 and is going to a private collection in Texas. It was pencil signed and numbered 37/75, published by Maeght, Paris.
There was also a lot carrying significant historical interest in this sale. It was a journalist’s archive of documents relating to US General U.S. Grant’s final weeks, and it rose from a $2,5/5,000 estimate to finish at $19,800, going to a private California collection. The singular trove was assembled in 1885 by Associated Press reporter Frank W. Mack as he covered the end of General Grant’s life and its immediate aftermath. The old soldier and former president, arguably America’s most celebrated living hero at the time, was painfully dying from throat cancer and racing death to finish his autobiography. Grant rightly knew that the published work would provide for his family after he died and that there was no time to waste. Through a friend’s generosity, isolated Drexel Cottage on New York’s Mount McGregor became the general’s quiet workplace and final home. Against staggering odds, Grant met his literary goal just in time and thus ensured his family’s financial security.
At the core of this collection were 37 photographs consisting of albumen prints, stereo views and cabinet cards. Most of the images were captioned by Frank Mack on the reverse of each mount while having a later typed transcription of the caption clipped to the front over the underlying image. One of the photographs is initialed “F.W.M.” in manuscript on the back and another is signed “F.W. Mack.” These initials and the signature verify Mack’s creation and original ownership of the archive.
Catalog notes state that the fortuitous survival of Mack’s photographs, notes and ephemera well into the Twentieth Century might be credited to businessman Frank L. Besser of Santa Ana, Calif. The entire 1885 archive was found carefully stored in Besser’s personalized leather briefcase sometime after his 1957 death. As it happened, in 1906, an older and, sadly, tubercular Frank Mack had also died in Santa Ana. The connection between Mack and Besser, if any, remains unknown. What cannot be denied, however, is that someone in Santa Ana certainly recognized the significance of Frank Mack’s U.S. Grant material and saved it after the journalist’s death.
Leland Little’s next auctions will be a two-part series – English, Continental and Asian arts on Thursday, March 24, and American fine and decorative arts on Friday, March 25.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.lelandlittle.com or 919-644-1243.
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