Published: July 21, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy John McInnis Auctioneers
MARBLEHEAD, MASS. & ONLINE – As far as house sales go, there is nothing quite like those that present the amassed contents of centuries of subsequent generations, offering fresh-to-the-market treasures and a sense of discovery to antique collectors. On Saturday, July 11, John McInnis Auctioneers presented such a sale, nearly 450 lots from a long-time Marblehead estate, the first of three auctions that will eventually prepare the property for sale. The auction of the Harriet Brown Bull trust realized $100,860 and was more than 99 percent sold despite limited by-appointment preview and bidding online only, without the option of phone or absentee bids.
The setting for the sale – a time capsule if ever there was one – was the Thomas Gerry House, known locally as “The Hearth and Eagle,” which was built by Samuel Goodwin in 1727 and had been the home of the Brown family since 1836. The history of the family could be traced through the amassed assembly of China Trade artifacts, collections of Native American antiques, Nineteenth Century paintings of Boston, Civil War photographs and militaria, Nineteenth Century clothing and Victorian jewelry, coins, toys, games and books and nautical collectibles expected in a house in a seaside town, as well as some of the craftwork made in Marblehead in the early Twentieth Century.
“It reminded me of those multigenerational homes you often saw selling in the 1970s, and the family is beloved in Marblehead,” McInnis’ auction manager Jay Williamson told us while overseeing sold items packed for shipping. “We’ve been selling on LiveAuctioneers for years and tapped into our buyers, but the family also helped spread the word, which generated a lot of local interest. We had more than 1,000 registered bidders – from a total of 14 other countries – and an unprecedented number of new bidders through LiveAuctioneers. What makes this estate stand out from many of the other ones we’ve done is how it was such a time capsule of the different generations and the collecting habits of the family that lived there.”
Williamson described the estate as the perfect project for the pandemic. “We divided the contents into what was most conducive to shipping and offered those first. The second sale will have more of the furnishings. We cataloged and photographed everything in April; I was alone in the house doing the cataloging. As soon as everything in this sale is picked up, I’ll go back in and tag the things that will be in the second sale.”
An early Twentieth Century occupant of the house collected big game fishing rods and reels but, happily for auctiongoers, rarely used them, and they were in extraordinarily good original condition. Two private collectors, one in Southern California, the other in Central Massachusetts, were the primary competitors for a selection of reels and big game fishing rods, including a nearly 7-foot-long Tycoon Tackle Bimini King model that landed the biggest price, $5,228. It was one of seven other Tycoon Tackle rods in the sale, of which two other examples brought the second and third highest prices, $4,305 and $3,998. Reels were also hotly pursued; of an even dozen on offer, a Penn Senator 10/0 reel brought the best price of $2,460, more than ten times its high estimate.
One of the inhabitants of the house had been a local artist and painter and the sale offered a few paintings and photographs of local views. A small (4¼ by 6½ inches) oil on paperboard depiction of Marblehead lighthouse by Clement Drew (1806-1899) shone bright and saw heated competition, finally selling to a local buyer for $2,337. Other works of the same ilk included Robert Chace’s “Marblehead Fisherman,” which went out at $215, and vintage photographs by Willard Jackson, one of a J-Class yacht, which sailed to finish at $1,353. Williamson said the second sale would feature more of the fine art, including approximately 100 mostly watercolors.
The family’s collection of early Marblehead Pottery comes from family members directly connected to the Devereux House Sanitarium in Marblehead, where “emotionally disturbed” patients were prescribed various handicraft activities as a way of treating their various conditions. It was from those early beginnings that Marblehead Pottery began and the sale offered more than 20 examples in a variety of forms and colors. A local collector of Marblehead pottery won three of the early tiles, one of which featured a windmill that Williamson said was incredibly rare and brought $1,230 and two depicted galleons that made $1,107 and $861. “The next session will feature more of the crafts made in Marblehead in the early Twentieth Century,” Williamson promised.
The textiles and clothing in the sale were found packed tightly into three chests that had not been unpacked in more than 100 years and all were offered in this sale. Included within were three Nineteenth Century China Trade embroidered silk skirts, which fetched prices ranging from $123 to $2,214. A white silk wedding dress, circa early Twentieth Century with sweeping flounced train was sewed up at $584. Several circa 1870s Victorian silk dresses were on parade, led by a blue and gray silk dress that bustled with interest to achieve $461, just more than a checked three-piece bustle dress of similar vintage that made $431. Two black dresses, each with white lace trim, were turned out, one bringing $277, the other making $154.
What better to embellish clothing than jewelry? The sale offered several lots of Victorian jewelry but the top prices were reached for a cameo portrait of John Quincy Adams by John A. Greenough of Boston that was signed and dated 1863 that soared past its $200/400 estimate to finish at $1,722 from a private collector in the Midwest. A Nineteenth Century 18K gold brooch encrusted with pearls and inset with a shell cameo of a Hellenistic woman draped with a mink stole wrapped up for $554.
Silver was a small category within the sale, topped by a hand-chased sterling silver footed bowl by Kirk that made $554; a lot of two similar sterling silver reticulated plates went out for $185, the same price realized by a pair of Gorham sterling silver master salts that included matching coin silver salt spoons.
At press time, sale dates for the remaining contents of the house have not been set but as Williamson put it, “the family needs us to have the house ready by the end of September.” The second sale is expected to take place online, though the third sale may take place onsite, as allowed. Stay tuned.
Prices quoted include buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
John McInnis Auctioneer is at 76 Main Street. For information, www.mcinnisauctions.com or 978-388-0400.
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