Published: January 30, 2007
Susan and Mark Laracy, well-known collectors of American furniture and folk art, decided one day to sell their home in New Canaan, Conn., and thus began the process of downsizing. Working with Sotheby’s, the one-owner sale was set for Americana Week in New York City, Saturday, January 20, at 2 pm.
The collecting bug bit early in 1988 when the couple met Marguerite Riordan and, presto, furniture and folk art moved in steadily for the next ten or so years. A number of dealers lent their support to building the collection, including David Schorsch, Marna Anderson, the Granbys, Fred Giampietro, Ernie Graf and Stephen Score, among others.
“We never once thought of these outlays as investments, but bought because we loved and fiercely coveted,” Mark Laracy wrote in the foreword of the auction catalog, a two-pound publication that illustrates 227 lots.
The sale brought in $7,075,680, exceeding the high estimate ($5.2 million) and only 13 lots passed. The prices quoted here included the buyer’s premium of 20 percent on the first $500,000, and 12 percent on anything over that amount. Prior to the Americana sales, the buyer’s premium was 20 percent on up to $200,000, and then 12 percent.
Four of the top five lots in the sale were portraits, works by John Brewster Jr, Sturtevant Hamblen, Sheldon Peck and Ammi Phillips, with a bonnet-top desk and bookcase filling in the fifth slot.
The sale, under the hammer of Bill Stahl, got off to a good start and set the pace with a Chippendale style sofa upholstered in green silk, a reproduction of an Eighteenth Century Philadelphia sofa, that sold for $15,600 against a high estimate of $5,000. It was followed by a Chippendale carved and parcel gilt mahogany hall mirror, circa 1780, probably English, for $18,000. The high estimate was $10,000 and both pieces carried the Riordan provenance.
A Queen Anne cherrywood side chair, pictured in the January 26 issue of this paper, came from the Eddy Nicholson sale and brought $192,000. The chair was from the Lathrop Shops, Norwich, Conn., circa 1750, and had a high estimate of $60,000.
The Governor Dummer Chippendale carved mahogany side chair, Massachusetts, circa 1760 (lot 11), with serpentine crest rail carved with scrolled ears, cabriole legs ending in high pad feet, sold for $18,000, better than three times the high estimate. A phone bidder, and there were many of them, took a tiny pearlware pitcher with cherries, probably English, early Nineteenth Century, for $2,100. The high estimate was $300.
Connecticut dealer Arthur Liverant was the successful bidder for a Windsor child’s high chair from Rhode Island, circa 1800, 39 inches high with a shaped crest above five tapered and swelled spindles. It retained the old black finish and sold for $14,400. “That is a wonderful chair, I really like it,” he said after the sale. A bid of $27,000 took an American School still life of half a watermelon in a scalloped dish, 12 by 15 inches for $27,000. The provenance lists Thomas Colville of New Haven, Conn. It carried a high estimate of $12,000.
There was strong competition for a pair of fat geese fireplace andirons, cast iron, 14½ inches high and 24 inches deep. With a high estimate of $4,000, several bidders joined the chase with the winner coming out at $27,500.
Among the needlework in the sale was a pair of crewel embroidered pictures: a gentleman in red coat and a lamb with carnation blossoms, Miss McNamara, New England, dated 1753. The provenance lists Roger Bacon and the Little Collection at Sotheby’s, 1994, each measures 10 by 8 inches, and the pair brought $240,000 against a high estimate of $75,000.
Nina Little was again listed in the provenance for lot 70, the portrait of a young girl wearing a brilliant yellow dress with pink hat posed in a landscape with her pet dog and a view of the Charles River with the Boston State House in the background. This work by John Ritto Penniman is of A.E. Crehore, age 1 year & 6 mo. It is signed and dated across the bottom, “J.R.P. Pinxt 1836,” measures 11.6 by 7.8 inches, and is watercolor, pen and ink on paper. With a high estimate of $80,000, it sold to Bill Samaha for $216,000.
The high estimate of $10,000 was left in the dust when the bidding for a paint decorated pine lift-top blanket chest, attributed to the Matteson School, South Shaftsbury, Vt., early Nineteenth Century, took off, ending at $228,000. This piece was also pictured in the January 26 issue of this paper.
Those who knew the wonderful dealer Paul Weld can just imagine his expression were he to know that a log caliper, stamped Wm Greenlief, that he once sold went to auction and brought $18,000. It was 61 inches long and had a high estimate of $1,200.
A pair of watercolor theorem paintings, two parrots, baskets of fruit and berries, circa 1830, 12 by 13 inches each, on cotton ticking, sold at the high estimate of $15,000, and a rare uniformed World War I bugler “Doughboy” doorstop, Hubley, Lancaster, Penn., circa 1918, went for $9,600 against a high estimate of $5,000.
Lot 144 was a Queen Anne carved cherrywood flat-top high chest of drawers, Connecticut River Valley, Glastonbury/Wethersfield, circa 1750–1780, 75 inches high and 39 inches wide. The central drawer was deeply carved with a flower head, and the center small drawer on the bottom was carved with a fan. It rested on pad feet and had a high estimate of $120,000, selling for $228,000. The provenance lists Florene Maine, Ridgefield, Conn., and Marguerite Riordan.
A Federal inlaid cherrywood candlestand, possibly from the Hartford area, circa 1800, square top with molded edge and an inlaid bird in the center of the 16½ inch square top with cutout corners, had an estimate of $3,000 and sold for $42,000.
Amy Finkel of Philadelphia was the successful bidder for a museum for a rare pair of Washington City samplers, Catherine Cassady and Margaret Cassady, dated 1826, silk on a linen ground and showing a three-tower building on a sloping hill with trees. The samplers carried an estimate of $40/80,000, and sold for $57,000. This pair of samplers sold in 1994 at Skinner for $92,000.
Lot 157, a Queen Anne corner chair in mahogany, estimated at a high of $12,000, sold for $36,000. This Massachusetts chair, circa 1770, had a horseshoe form back and retained an old mellow finish.
A bid of $100,000 opened lot 159, a pair of small scaled portraits of a sister and brother by John Brewster Jr, circa 1819, oil on canvas. The boy, dressed in brown, was holding a red book and the girl, dressed in white, was holding a red rose. Each measures 18 by 15 inches and sold for $168,000 to David Wheatcroft, who also bought the larger pair of Brewsters.
C.L. Prickett of Yardley, Penn., was the successful bidder for lot 172, a Chippendale figured cherrywood and birchwood serpentine front chest of drawers, Connecticut, circa 1770, for $144,000 against a high estimate of $120,000. It has a wide overhanging top with thumbmolded edge, original brass hardware, and bold scroll-cut ogee bracket feet. Prickett also bought the next lot, a Federal lolling chair in mahogany and attributed to Lemuel Churchill of Boston, circa 1810. It has serpentine arms, molded arm supports and molded tapered legs and sold for $24,000, just over the high estimate.
An English delftware blue and white jug, late Seventeenth Century, 5½ inches high, sold for $7,200, a rare London delftware white salt, circa 1675, wide flat rim applied with three upright scroll devices, was estimated at a high of $25,000, and sold for $42,000. Lot 215, an English delftware equestrian charger dating from the last quarter of the Seventeenth Century, the center painted with a horseman wearing full armor and a yellow sash, was estimated at $12,000 tops and sold for $26,400.
Several hours later the sale ended with a white-painted Queen Anne style slat back garden bench in pine, American, scrolled arms and scalloped skirt, for $2,040, just double the high estimate.
When it was decided by the Laracys to sell their home, Mark wrote in the catalog, “all of our plunder would have to go.” And it did, save the 13 items “passed.”
Following the sale family and friends went out to dinner and in the course of the evening, the Laracys’ son, Noah, proposed the following toast: “I want to congratulate you on a spectacular auction today in which, if I’ve got this right, you’ve traded in old furniture, bought when you were young to show that you had a past, for new furniture, bought when you were a little older, to show that you have a future. And what a bright future it is. Kafka once wrote that ‘anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.'”
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