Published: June 4, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – May 27 was a beautiful, warm and sunny day for the 52nd annual Memorial Day sale at William A. Smith. Probably because of the weather, there were a few more empty seats in the room than usual, but that did not seem to have much effect on prices. Smith does not offer online bidding, so the size of the crowd in the room might be expected to impact prices. There were numerous absentee bids, however, and the phone lines were active. As expected, the top lot of the day was a painting by Jasper Cropsey. There were numerous other paintings and a strong selection of jewelry, which provided the second and third highest prices of the sale. There was a portion of a 40-year collection of Chinese export porcelain, dozens of pieces of American furniture, folk art and much more. The sale just missed being another of Smith’s $1 million sales, grossing $948,000. All lots at Smith’s sales are sold without reserve, and each lot includes this sentence with the description on the website: “This lot is sold without reserve; bidding could begin or end at any amount.”
The highest priced lot of the sale, which brought $80,500, was “View of The Hudson River” by Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900), an important member of the Hudson River School painters. The painting was dated 1886 and had been given by the artist to the Melvin family, which owned it until 2014, when it was sold by a member of that family who did so without consulting others in the family. It was accompanied by an undated note that established its provenance. “My stepfather [William O. Melvin] called this morning, he said…that Cropsey came up from NYC by stagecoach. He most likely stopped at the Jug Tavern. On the day of the painting, Cropsey walked down the hill to the painting site. The area was originally called Sparta, N.Y., not Ossining, N.Y. Bill’s mother’s family construction company was called John L. Monks & Sons Construction Company. According to him, it was a well-established, large construction company in its day.” The note goes on to say that the construction company built a home for Cropsey in nearby Warwick, N.Y., and that the painting was given by Cropsey to the family at that time.
The home the Monks firm constructed for Cropsey was a 29-room Gothic Revival mansion. The artist apparently remained a close friend of the Melvin/ Monks families, as his burial plot in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Mount Pleasant, N.Y., is adjacent to theirs. The family history goes on to say that when the painting was sold in 2014 to a New York City art dealer, another family member quickly purchased it for $268,000 and spent another $18,000 on a frame for it. Receipts for the purchase of the painting and the frame were included with the lot.
A painting by another important Hudson River School artist, Thomas Doughty (1793-1856), “Path to the Sea,” earned $6,900, but it didn’t have the kind of story that the Cropsey work had. Smith had several paintings of local interest, including a view of Mount Ascutney, likely done from Cornish, N.H., inscribed on the stretcher “Connecticut River Near Windsor Vt.” It had been painted by Charles Partridge Adams (1858-1942) and brought $4,600. There were also four or five paintings by Vermont painter John Semple (1930-2015) of local scenes, which mostly sold in the $500 range.
Jewelry lots provided most of the next highest prices of the day. Much was from the estate of well-to-do Hilda Morgenstern of Stowe, Vt., who died there in 2018. She and her husband, both originally from Germany, had a business in New York City and retired to Vermont. They were married for 73 years and died within weeks of one another. Her family created a scholarship for Jewish women who would do some of their undergraduate studies in Israel.
The most sought-after piece from the Morgenstern collection was a platinum and diamond engagement ring with a large 6.39-carat, round, brilliant-cut diamond. The accompanying GIA certificate indicated that the stone’s color was J, with a VS2 clarity. The ring, which sold for $71,300, was also set with additional baguette diamonds. Four phone bidders competed. The next lot was also a diamond and platinum ring, this one with a 3.15-carat diamond graded F for color and VVS2 for clarity; it brought $52,900. A ring with a 4.24-carat cut corner square brilliant yellow diamond realized $36,800. Lori Vallari, the company’s office manager, was asked about which piece of jewelry in the sale was her favorite. She immediately selected an Art Deco platinum and diamond bracelet, with approximately 4-5 carat weight of old European-cut diamonds, which sold for $4,025.
Furniture available represented a wide geographical range – New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia. An unusual walnut slant front desk on frame, probably Virginia, circa 1740, was sold to a phone bidder for $5,940, underbid by a dealer in the room. A Newport single-leaf Queen Anne table, circa 1740-50, sold for $2,300. A pair of Hepplewhite inlaid satinwood game tables with lift tops and green tooled leather surfaces reached $2,760. Some of the furniture was very affordable. A circa 1800 Hepplewhite inlaid mahogany Pembroke table with icicle inlay, which Smith said indicated New York or Rhode Island origin, brought just $402. A set of six late Eighteenth Century cherry Chippendale chairs, made in the Connecticut River Valley circa 1780-1800, earned just $805.
Smith runs a fun, friendly auction. Just before selling lot number one, a staff member presented a birthday cake to a 96-year-old customer, and Smith encouraged the audience to sing “Happy Birthday,” which they did. He humorously introduced his staff, which included a variety of family members, and noted that his daughter, Abby, who just graduated college, would be going to law school in the fall at American University in Washington, DC. He teased his nephew, Wyatt, who graduated from Colby College the day before the sale and “partied” that night. He explained, to the best of his ability, the pieces he was selling and said of internet bidding, “We’d rather not go down that route.”
The day after the sale, Smith said, “I wish it had rained instead of being such a nice day. People were gardening instead of going to an auction. But we still had a good day. The Morgenstern jewelry was the backbone of the sale, and so was the Cropsey painting. It was a good assortment of stuff, and it comes from all over, not just local. And over and over we see that the when the stuff is great, the right buyers are there, and the prices are solid. And for those looking for a few nice pieces of American furniture, this is definitely the right time to be buying.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
For information, 603-675-2549 or www.wsmithauction.com.
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