Published: March 13, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Skinner Inc
BOSTON, MASS. – Provenance for many of the items in Skinner’s March 3 American furniture and decorative arts sale included some of the top dealers in those categories. That may have helped fill the salesroom, which had a larger crowd than some earlier sales, and buyers in the room were often successful, although competing with multiple phone lines and two internet platforms.
There were several surprises – some pleasant and some not so. The top lot of the day, one of the pleasant surprises, was a red-painted Shaker desk, which finished at $67,650, well over the estimate. On the other side of the coin, the cover lot, an exceptional Civil War-era quilt, which had been expected to be the top performing lot of the day, did not sell. Some good weathervanes did well, while others were passed.
Nearly all game boards sold over the estimates, some stoneware exceeded estimates, as did silver and several other choice pieces. There was strong interest in several pieces of American furniture, including a well-documented Hadley chest and a diminutive Newburyport tiger maple high chest. In addition to the $1,060,770 gross of the live suction, Skinner’s online sale of Americana added another $321,504 to the weekend’s gross of $1,382,274.
The surprise star of the day, coming late in the sale, was a circa 1850 red painted maple and butternut Shaker desk. Attributed to the Alfred, Maine, community, it was similar to one illustrated in The Complete Book of Shaker Furniture and sold for $67,650. It had six drawers in the upper section, five in the lower, paneled sides and stood on four swelled and tapering legs. The desk’s final price was more than eight times the high estimate. A phone bidder paid $49,200 for a circa 1718 Hadley chest that had remained in the original family until this sale.
The ownership by successive members of the family was documented in Skinner’s catalog. The chest was made for Elizabeth White in the Hadley area and bore her initials in the central panel, above the long drawer. It retained its original red/black surface and was cataloged as having only minor imperfections and restoration. The chest is documented in Luther’s The Hadley Chest and had been exhibited in the Concord Antiquarian Society for more than 20 years.
Other pieces of American furniture did well, and as happens too often, some sold well below what might fairly have been expected. Doing well was a refinished North Shore serpentine chest of drawers, circa 1760-80, on a bracket base with a shell-carved drop pendant. It went to a phone bidder at $7,380. A small Newburyport tiger maple highboy, dated to the mid-Eighteenth Century, finished at $11,685. Its lower case featured a concave carved fan. Selling within estimates was a Massachusetts tiger maple chest on chest with a carved fan and eight drawers, which realized $5,228, and another Massachusetts chest on chest, which sold for $6,150. This one had a broken triangular pediment and three turned finials. Both had been refinished. Certainly in the bargain department, in spite of imperfections, was a circa 1760-80 Massachusetts Chippendale mahogany drop leaf table that went out for $492.
The sale started with silver, again with much selling over the estimates. The first lot, a monogrammed serving spoon by Paul Revere Jr reached $11,070. The Museum of Fine Arts has two tablespoons with the same monogram, identifying the owner as Mary Lynde Walter, daughter of the rector of Trinity Church, 1767-1775. Two monogrammed canns by Concord, Mass., silversmith Samuel Bartlett did nicely, with one bringing $4,920 and the other $6,150.
Several of the game boards, weathervanes and an exceptional face jug, included the names of prominent folk art specialists in their provenance: Stephen Score, Tim and Charlene Chambers, America Hurrah, Jackie Radwin, Allan Katz, Ricco/Maresca, Jeffrey Tillou, Wayne Pratt, Ken and Ida Manko, etc. Stephen Score had owned the out-of-the-ordinary portrait face jug of L.W. Berry, for which a phone bidder paid $59,040. The L.W. Berry name was incised in script on the side of the jug, and incised on the bottom was “Made by Wm. Decker/July 9th 1892.” Decker operated the Keystone Pottery in Chucky Valley, Tenn., and he designed this jug with anatomical features, such as sideburns, mustache, beard, pierced ears, incised teeth and more. Cheeks were painted orange. The jug is illustrated in The Pottery of Charles F. Decker, a 2004 catalog for a show in Tennessee. Although there was interest in the room, in the end it went to a phone bidder.
A 42-inch copper “Statue of Liberty on Arrow” topped the group of weathervanes. Attributed to the J.L. Mott company, it was bought by Steve Weiss on the phone with his client for $43,050. A massive 46-inch full-bodied Merino ram weathervane, which had come from a mill building in one of the towns flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir, reached $14,760, and a smaller ram vane went for $11,070.
Wayne Pratt had once sold the carved and painted carousel figure of a giraffe, which, at $61,500, was the second highest priced item in the sale. The 66-inch-tall figure retained the original painted surface, was probably made by Daniel Muller of the Dentzel Company in the late Nineteenth Century and is illustrated in Charlotte Dinger’s The Art of the Carousel. It had been sold in 2011 by Northeast Auctions as part of the Kellogg collection, where it brought $101,480. A few days after the sale, David Schorsch said he thought it was a good buy. “It was a righteous object, with its original dry surface it was special. So many carousel figures are repainted and shiny, but this was just the way you’d like to find it. I wish I had a need for it at the moment.”
An interesting double-sided baseball game board was one of a group of colorful boards. One side was painted as a minimalist baseball diamond with black bases and pitcher’s mound on an orange background, and the other side was a checkerboard, It had come from Tim Chambers, had been included in an exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in 2003-04 and is illustrated in Baseball For Everyone: 150 Years of America’s Game. Bringing $1,599, it was far from the highest priced board in the collection.
Selling for $17,220, several times the estimate, was a carefully done six-color Parcheesi board with stars in the corners and a yellow playing surface. It sold to Schorsch, who had sold it a few years ago to the collector who consigned it. “It was an outstanding board and the guy made some money on it. Glad to have it back.” A brightly colored carved and polychrome painted folding Parcheesi board that included Ricco/Maresca in its provenance, brought the second strongest price, $11,685. A double-sided Parcheesi board that had once been sold by Allan Katz, was not far behind, finishing at $10,455. It was precisely painted in six colors, with Parcheesi on one side and a checkerboard on the other. Both prices were slightly over the estimates.
Sometimes wonderful things with wonderful stories don’t sell. That happened with a pieced and appliqued cotton Civil War quilt made by Mary Bell Shawvan, circa 1863. It was composed of solid color and calico printed cotton, with a large spread-winged eagle and shield in the center, surrounded by meandering flowering vines and grapevines with perched birds. The leaves, flowers, birds and fruit were stuffed, giving it a three-dimensional effect.
According to family tradition, Shawvan, mother of six, worked on the quilt when her 34-year-old husband enlisted in the Union army in 1861. His unit, the 1st Wisconsin Volunteer infantry, fought in the Battle of Chickamauga, the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War. A total of 80 percent of the regiment was killed, including Shawvan’s husband, Sergeant John Shawvan.
Mary put the quilt away, never using it, and it remained in the family until Skinner sold it for a little over $150,000 in 2003 to a Massachusetts collector. That collector was the consignor this time, and he, too, never used it. Skinner’s Steve Fletcher said that when he discussed the consignment with the owner, the quilt was still in the clear plastic bag in which Skinner had delivered it in 2003. That collector said that he had only taken it out of the bag once or twice a year, meaning that the colors were strong and vibrant, and the condition was “as made.” Skinner estimated it at $100/150,000 but it did not sell.
Another remarkable quilt did sell. It was made by Mrs Cecil White, Hartford, Conn., around 1925-30 and was 77 by 66 inches. Titled “Scenes of American Life,” it was composed of 55 quilted vignettes depicting a wide variety of everyday scenes: men and women at work, including a barber, a bartender, a rodeo rider, tennis players, sweethearts courting, a man getting his shoes shined, plus cars, trucks and steam locomotives. It even included an interracial couple. Its provenance included America Hurrah, Ricco/Maresca and Fred Giampietro and it sold for $55,350. A Hawaiian flag quilt brought $7,380. Colorful Mennonite quilts were included, and they sold, but for much less than they once might have, bringing between $365 and $575.
Skinner runs a number of online-only sales, and they draw numerous buyers. Bidding in the online-only Americana sale, which ended March 5, two days after the live sale, ran for eight days. The merchandise was available for viewing in the same place, and at the same time as the preview for the live sale. That scheduling seems to have worked well, as American furniture, folk art, early American glass, marine art and mechanical banks often substantially exceed conservative estimates.
For example, an Uncle Sam mechanical bank with good paint, estimated at $1,200, sold for $9,840. An Eighteenth Century carved tiger maple mirror with a scrolled crest and carved pinwheel sold for $8,610, against an estimate of $600. A duck decoy, cataloged without attribution, realized $6,675, against a $500 estimate. Bidders obviously were able to identify the maker.
Early glass also did well online: two blue/green blown glass pitchers, described as probably New York state, Nineteenth Century, sold for $5,228, against an estimate of $300, two large blown carboys, estimated at $500, ended up at $4,613, and a Greeley’s Bourbon bitters bottle expected to bring $300 ended up at $3,690.
After the sale, Steve Fletcher said, “The format of increasing the number of online-only lots worked well. We sold about 360 lots at the ‘live’ part of the sale and more than 450 in the online-only sale. We’re seeing that work for us. It shortens the live sale and, as prices show, there’s strong competition in the online sale. That’s good. So, overall, it was a good sale and we’re certainly happy with the way it turned out.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 508-970-3200 or www.skinnerinc.com.
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