Published: December 26, 2006
Lady Liberty and two black unicorns were among the fanciful figures tweaking bidders’ interest at Skinner on November 5. In all, the two-day auction of American furniture and decorative arts, including the collection of Denny L. and Patty Tracey on November 4, achieved $4,010,238, including buyer’s premium. It was the second highest Americana total on record for the firm.
The most vigorously contested lot was a Berks County dower chest decorated with rampant black unicorns with red horns, rampant spotted lions, tulips, crowns, birds and pinwheels on a blue-green ground. The architectural piece with molded edges, two thumb-molded drawers, molded base, central drop and bracket feet sold over the phone to Olde Hope Antiques on behalf of a client for $440,000 ($25/35,000). Maine dealer Jim Glazer opened the bidding, leaving off when Massachusetts dealer David Wheatcroft entered the race at $250,000.
Inscribed “Bern, Berks County, Adam Minnich, 1796,” the chest, which descended in a North Shore Massachusetts family, relates most closely to another at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is from a group described by Patricia Keller in the October 1991 issue of The Magazine Antiques.
“It’s one of the most exciting dower chests to come on the market since we’ve been in business. It’s condition is extraordinary,” said Pat Bell of Olde Hope. The New Hope, Penn., dealers plan to remove the secondary coat of varnish currently obscuring some of the furniture’s brilliant original color. “It’s going to be an eye-popper,” said Bell.
“By that hand, it’s the best I’ve seen,” added Wheatcroft.
A second dower chest, a Schwenkfelder example from Pennsburg, Penn., vivid fancy-painted decoration and a central panel inscribed “Jacob Hubner, 1815,” went to the phone for $30,550.
Underbid by Bill Samaha, Boston dealer Stephen Score, who last January paid $1.08 million for a Liberty weathervane at Christie’s, acquired a China Trade reverse painting on glass of Liberty as the goddess Hebe for $336,000 ($40/60,000.) The two Liberties went to different clients, Score said.
Still in its original frame and in outstanding condition, the circa 1800 painting on glass, from a Rhode Island home, is patterned after Edward Savage’s painting, published as an engraving in 1796. A nearly identical painting on glass is at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Carl Crossman published it in The Decorative Arts of The China Trade.
“It is a beautiful, important object, joyous and triumphant. It’s condition is incredible. The colors are exact complements. The back has never been opened and it’s in its original frame,” said Score. Details such as an eagle, flag, liberty cap, Doric column, keys to the Bastille, a lightning bolt and the lighthouse in Boston Harbor all refer to the Revolutionary fervor of the time.
Said Score, “The painting is going to stay in a great private house in Boston, which is where it should be.”
Lady Liberty was followed by a circa 1810 Dubuc of Paris cast-brass and mercury mantel clock surmounted by George Washington and an American eagle. Measuring 15½ inches tall and minus its original glass dome, it sold to the phone for $35,250.
Other noteworthy clocks included an Aaron Willard of Boston shelf clock, circa 1790, $70,500; and a Federal mahogany dwarf clock by Joshua Wilder of Hingham, Mass., $58,750.
The top piece of formal furniture was a Massachusetts Queen Anne flat-top highboy of vividly figured maple, $76,375. To Essex, Mass., dealer Clark Pearce went a Boston Chippendale carved mahogany side chair, $23,500.
Leading marine paintings sales was a portrait of the clipper ship Game Cock, built in East Boston and launched in 1850. Attributed to James E. Buttersworth, the oil on canvas went to a private collector for $138,000. The picture descended in the family of Captain Daniel Bacon, the ship’s original owner.
“The Action Between The Chesapeake and The Shannon,” an oil on canvas possibly by J.S. Schetky, sold for $110,500.
Ships pictures by Antonio Jacobsen were less successful. Two were bought in, while one, a signed portrait of an American ship, fetched $35,250. Later in the sale, Jacobsen’s Mississippi and Game Cock brought $19,975 and $24,675.
A selection of scrimshaw included a Nineteenth Century whale’s tooth engraved with ships, a flag, an eagle, figures and initials. It went to Nantucket, Mass., dealer Nina Hellman for $11,163.
Among portraits, the sale’s cover lot, a charming portrait of George Whitefield Wales with his spaniel, went to Olde Hope Antiques for $31,725. The painting is attributed to Joseph Whiting Stock.
A Zedekiah Belknap portrait of Frances Elizabeth Swift brought $18,800. The circa 1824 oil on panel painting depicts the future journalist and author known as Fanny Fales and Mrs Frances E. Swift. Accompanying the lot were family photographs and documents describing Belknap’s visit: “The poor man was fond of his cups and saw red and blue devils while he was painting.”
Against competition from Olde Hope Antiques, Massachusetts dealer David Wheatcroft acquired a circa 1860 Rensselaer County, N.Y., oil on panel farm scene, $110,500 ($8/12,000), by Joseph H. Hidley. The painting was part of “Between The Rivers: Itinerant Painters From the Connecticut to the Hudson River Valley,” a traveling show that opened at the Clark Art Institute in 1990.
Folk sculpture and small, colorful accessories are among the brightest spots in the market these days. Not surprisingly, when the session opened with a 32¼-inch-tall carved and painted pine soldier whirligig estimated at $4/6,000, the price soared to $30,550. The figure sold to Illinois and Florida dealers Sally and Michael Whittemore. The next lot, a 25¾-inch- long paint decorated, dome top box went for $9,400 to Wheatcroft, who also bought a South Shaftsbury, Vt., painted miniature chest for $24,675.
Other sought-after folk art included a paint decorated “Game of The Goose” game board, $16,450, and a 54½-inch-long cast iron Newfoundland dog, $55,813.
Skinner’s November auction was part of Americana Week in Boston, planned around the Ellis Memorial Antiques Show.
“Linking the events definitely worked,” said Stephen Fletcher. “Our emphasis on Boston continues to draw private, retail buyers.”
All sold prices include buyer’s premium. For information, 617-350-5400 or www.skinnerinc.com.
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