Published: April 12, 2011
The Internet is dramatically changing the landscape for most auctioneers. For Leland Little, an auctioneer in the metropolitan Raleigh area, it means bringing property culled regionally to a national and international audience.
Little entered the auction arena in the late 1980s and launched his own firm in 1998. Two years ago, he opened a new, purpose-built gallery in Hillsborough, central to the triangle communities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Well managed and ambitious, Leland Little Auctions & Estate Sales, Ltd, aims to be a major regional force.
“We are growing in a number of professional directions,” Little said on a brisk walk-through of his spacious quarters on the evening of his March 18 and 19 spring estate cataloged auction. Little’s staff structure is increasingly specialized. In recent years, he has sharpened his focus on fine art, jewelry, Asian art and Twentieth Century design. His newest innovation is a fine wines department, headed by wine specialist Mark Solomon.
Little currently grosses around $4.5 million annually and has about 20 employees. Leland Little, Ltd, conducts around 35 events a year, including onsite tag sales and monthly, uncataloged estate treasures auctions. The company saves its best material for four quarterly auctions that are fully cataloged, heavily promoted and conducted live and online.
Catalogs include documentation and details on condition. The company’s searchable website compiles results from the past 28 cataloged sales, making it easy for users to retrieve comparable sales data for any category, object or artist that the auction house has handled.
“We are very happy with our partnership with Live Auctioneers,” says Little, for whom online selling has meant a much larger audience. Property is listed in more than 20 digital databases. More than 1,700 bidders †most of them on the telephone, absentee and live online †registered for the March 18 and 19 sale, which grossed $750,000, including the 15 percent buyer’s premium.
“This was our first cataloged sale of 2011. I was pleased to see consistency from the front to the back of the sale, with many lots falling within their estimated ranges. It’s a good sign for the market overall,” says the auctioneer.
Leading two days of sales was “The Pantheon,” an oil on canvas by the highly collectible French painter of Paris street life, Édouard Cortes. The signed view of flower sellers and a strolling mother and child with the Pantheon, a Paris landmark, in the background sold to an area collector for $28,750.
Little maintains a high profile in the affluent resort communities of Pinehurst and Southern Pines, an hour south of Chapel Hill. A small collection of German and Austrian painted porcelain plaques from a Pinehurst consignor, Jacqueline R. Stroupe, sparked international competition. Heading the group was a Nineteenth Century Berlin KPM plaque of a pretty young woman with a fan, in a later giltwood frame, which made $8,338.
Works of art of Southern interest also fared well. Three portraits of a Frederick, Md., family, together with the locket worn by the child depicted with her doll in one of the portraits, made a combined $17,566 from an Asheboro, N.C., collector.
“Flower Vendor,” a signed pastel on silk by the noted Charleston, S.C., artist Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, called the “matriarch of the Charleston Renaissance,” crossed the block at $5,175. Little has twice sold Verner pastels on silk for $28,750.
Influenced by George Inness, Albert Pinkham Ryder and Ralph Blakelock, Elliott Daingerfield, called “the American Millet,” grew up in Fayetteville, N.C., kept a studio in Blowing Rock, N.C., but studied at the Art Students League in New York. “Allegory” and “Blowing Rock,” both expressionist landscapes by Daingerfield, hammered down at $12,650 and $13,800, respectively. In 2008, Little sold a Venice view by Daingerfield for $83,950. Another North Carolina view, “Still Fishing,” an oil on canvas by Eugene Thomason, went for $4,830.
Southern furniture included an inlaid walnut bonnet top corner cupboard, $16,100, a favorite North Carolina form. Fresh to the market, this new discovery has a reeded and diamond-inlaid plinth reminiscent of pieces from the Swisegood group of Davidson County, N.C. Research on Piedmont furniture is still in its infancy. Organized by June Lucas and currently on view at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, “The Neatest Pieces of Any Description” is an outstanding introduction to this lively but little-known group of furniture.
“Prominent architects affiliated with University North Carolina Chapel Hill, Duke and North Carolina State contributed to this area’s reputation for Modernist design,” says Little, who is building sales of Twentieth Century decorative arts. Highlights included a Phillip and Kelvin LaVerne “Chan” cocktail table, $6,900; a Svend Madsen midcentury desk, $1,265; a Hans Olsen dining set, $1,150; a Milo Baughman bedroom suite, $2,185; and five Hanova of Pasadena enameled serving dishes, $316.
“Pottery is a stable category for us,” Little says of one of North Carolina’s best known art forms. Pieces this session ranged from a Nineteenth Century 5-gallon stoneware jug by Daniel Seagle, $4,370, to a face jug by Burlon Craig of Vale, N.C., $748.
Silver also sells well at Little’s. Of interest was a set of 12 sterling julep cups by Manchester Silver Co., $3,220; an 1829 Irish silver repousse jug, $2,070; and a stylish Art Deco cocktail shaker of Russian origin, $2,875.
The biggest prices these days for Asian art at auction tend to be for works made for domestic consumption. “I saw a little softness in our Export porcelain,” said Little, who nevertheless coaxed a bid of $4,600 on a 16½-inch-diameter Rose Mandarin punchbowl.
A selection of antique and estate jewelry assembled by specialist Nancy Blount provided both some nice buys and high prices. Buyers favored Art Deco designs and diamonds. A handsome Mexican silver and amethyst necklace by Fred Davis, circa 1940, brought $4,140, but the sale’s cover lot, a purplish pink sapphire and diamond ring ($40/60,000), passed.
The company enjoyed its highest grossing wine auction to date with three times the number of pre-registered absentee, telephone and online bidders. Highlights included 11 bottles of 1969 Richebourg, $9,775; two bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, $3,450; and 12 bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, $3,105.
The weekend after his spring estates sale, Little was off to Ellerbe, N.C., to conduct a live and online sale of Native American artifacts and Americana from the collection of Dr P.R. Rankin. The auction grossed $207,000.
Little’s summer estate catalog auction, including a Grandma Moses canvas and a strong selection of silver, is set for June 17 and 18. William Ivey, an independent scholar and collector of North Carolina decorative arts, will talk about his new book, North Carolina School of Long Rifles, 1765‱865, on June 17. Little plans subsequent catalog sales for September 16 and 17 and December 2 and 3.
All prices given include the 15 percent buyer’s premium.
Leland Little Auction & Estate Sales, Ltd, is at 620 Cornerstone Court. For information, 919-644-1243 or www.llauctions.com .
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