Published: October 16, 2007
Tucked into Stair Galleries’ Exposition auction on September 28 were 200 lots of previously unoffered property from the William M.V. Kingsland estate. It is safe to say that this sale garnered less media attention than the auctioneer’s October 14 and 15, 2006, sale featuring Kingsland consignments, which ultimately attracted the notice of the Art Theft Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation once it was learned †a day after the auction †that two of the paintings had been stolen from Harvard’s Fogg Museum in 1971.[See Antiques and The Arts Weekly , October 31, 2006].
The mysterious New York City “character double” William Milliken Vanderbilt Kingsland (aka Melvin Kohn) was found deceased in his 72nd Street apartment in New York City in March 2006. Kingsland had what was described as a quirky reputation. He was well known in Upper East Side Manhattan circles, but apparently even his close associates did not know that he had been born as Melvyn Kohn in Park East Hospital in April 29, 1943, to immigrant parents. The New York Sun reported in December 2006 that a pair of genealogists had traced naturalization records to make that discovery.
“The sale went off without a hitch,” said Colin Stair, president of the company. “We labored hard to check every lot through the Art Loss Register [a private database of stolen and missing works of art, antiques and valuables].” It was, in fact, the gallery’s highest grossing Exposition sale to date, grossing about $175,000 for 500 lots. And with no phone or Internet bidding, the auction sailed though the 500 lots in just under four hours.
A total of 110 bidders were in the gallery and there were about 60 left bids as the Kingsland lots crossed the block, but these constituted items like family portraits, prints, engravings and the like, according to Stair, and none went for over-the-top prices. “The highest selling item was a carved jade vase that was mounted as a lamp. It brought $6,000,” said Stair.
Other Kingsland property highlights were an oil on artistboard scene of Horseshoe Falls, which sold for $2,500; an oil on canvasboard “Navy Plane” by Charles H. Hubbell, at $1,300; an oil on canvas portrait of a gentleman at $1,200; an oil on canvas study for “The Last Victims of the Terror,” at $1,100; and, each bringing $950, a Continental School oil on board of two portraits and two French gilt metal-mounted cases, “Souvenir D’Amitie.”
Notable lots consigned to the auction from other estates included a large giltwood overmantel mirror, which realized $1,900; a George III mahogany breakfront bookcase for $1,900; a marble top faux bamboo coffee table at $1,800; a pair of Bohemian glass lustres, which went out at 1,400; and seven porcelain figures finishing at $1,200.
“Check everything. Question everything” are the auctioneer’s watchwords in terms of lessons learned from the Kingsland affair. Believing that because he was dealing in good faith with the City of New York †which claimed ownership of the apartment and its contents when Kingsland died without a last will and testament on record or any heirs coming forward †Stair believed he had clean title on every item.
“The public administrator’s office told us that they had clear title to the items, and we had no reason not to believe them,” he said. Now, Stair said, he systematically checks consigned lots through the Art Loss Register, and urges other auctioneers to do the same. “More due diligence on the part of auction houses is clearly needed,” he said.
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