Published: December 27, 2022
Review By Rick Russack, Photos Courtesy Merrill’s Auctioneers
WILLISTON, VT. – Spanning special Lego sets, video games, midcentury furniture, counter-culture posters, to vintage stereo equipment, to studio pottery, to pinball machines, to coins and currency, to comic books, to ethnographic items, Merrill’s Auctioneers’ December 16 sale, was, to say the least, varied. There was a heavy slant towards late Twentieth Century and pop culture material, but there were also paintings that did well, along with jewelry, silver, books and more.
The company was founded in 1967 by Vermont native Duane Merrill, whose family had been in the antiques business since the late 1930s. He is now semi-retired, with his son Ethan running the business. Both father and son accept the fact that the antiques business today is far different than the business the family began in the 1930s. They have embraced technology and, as this sale demonstrated, they welcomed the changing interests of today’s collectors, including mid- and late Twentieth Century items, and now Twenty-First Century items. Asked before the sale about who the customers are, Ethan commented, “we’re certainly seeing a new generation of collectors. The video game collectors are mostly in their early thirties. Those buying midcentury furniture and decorative arts are also in their thirties, but certainly with many in their forties and fifties. Some of the dealers who built their businesses on folk art and Americana are adding more recent items to their inventories and there’s a whole group of younger dealers who are knowledgeable about mid- and late Twentieth Century material and who concentrate on that. That’s the fun of the business for us – it’s always changing.”
In keeping with Ethan’s comments, the highest priced lot in the sale, bringing $10,200, was a large group of “Magic The Gathering” collectible trading cards. There were numerous loose game cards, booster packs, jumbo cards, various guides, among other things. That game, released in 1993, was the first trading-card game and had more than 35 million players as of the end of 2018. New cards are still released on a regular basis through expansion sets with rarity in productoin and utility in game play driving prices of some cards to tens of thousands of dollars.
Prior to the sale, Ethan had remarked on the size of the collection of games and related material. “The collection was huge, floor-to-ceiling, and a storage locker full.” A large group of out-of-print items from the “Star Trek Collectable Card Game” sold for $1,200. The cards alone filled 4 feet of shelf space, there was a limited-edition tin and far more. The game was introduced in 1994 under the name “Star Trek: The Next Generation Customizable Card Game.” A large lot of Star Wars role playing games and books, filling six boxes, sold for $1,080.
The collection included Lego sets; a large collection of Lego Star War sets realized $2,520. Many had original boxes and instruction manuals. The catalog noted that most sets had been assembled, may or may not have been complete, and that a private shipper was recommended due to the size of the lot. A large lot of Lego sets and Lego ephemera, selling for $3,300, was described as “most sets and boxes have been opened, and there is a large tub of loose pieces and partially assembled sets. Pieces will likely be missing.” There were also pinball machines from the same era. Most popular was a Data East Tales from the Crypt pinball game converted to LED, in working order, which sold for $3,900.
Leading the selection of midcentury furniture was a set of seven Hans Wegner “round” chairs which earned $9,000, the second highest price of the day. The teak and leather chairs had been made by the Johannes Hansen company in Denmark, with which Wegner had a long relationship. In all, there were about a dozen lots of Danish midcentury furniture. A large Svend A. Larsen teak tambour front credenza, with four drawers and shelves, earned $1,440. Although not attributed to a specific designer, a teak dresser-desk brought $1,680. Unopened, it appeared to be a four-drawer chest, but the top drawer had a fall-front writing surface with a fitted interior.
As noted, the sale included paintings, silver jewelry and other items. One of the highest prices of the sale, $7,800 was earned by “Looking Up Fifth Avenue,” an oil on canvas by Johann Berthelsen (American, 1883-1972), known for his wintery scenes of New York City. Self-taught and working in the impressionistic style, his paintings are in several museum collections. A watercolor and gouache painting of a cow on panel signed Milton Avery (1885-1965) earned $4,200, and an ink, watercolor, and gouache on paper of dancing couples by Peter Arno (1904-1968) earned $1,680.
Vintage stereo and electronic music equipment included a Roland TR 808 Drum Machine in original condition, which sold for $4,200. This iconic machine was created by Ikutaro Kakehashi in 1980. It was one of the earliest programmable drum machines and was used on more hit records than any other drum machine, including songs like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Several musicians have referred to the equipment in their songs. A Thorens TD 124 turntable, missing its headshell and cartridge, earned $960, while a Technics SL 1200 MK2 turntable went out for $720. There were other sets of speakers, sub-woofers and similar pieces of equipment.
Contemporary Vermont-made studio glass and studio pottery were included in the sale. A 2012 Randi Solin sculptural art glass vase realized $660. Her work is in the White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other museums. Other pieces of regionally made studio pottery included several pieces by George Scatchard, Underhill, Vt. He’s been producing pottery since 1960. One of his 16-inch incised stoneware vases brought $240, and a large stoneware bowl earned $150.
After the sale, Ethan Merrill said “the winter storm reduced the number of bidders in the room, but it didn’t seem to matter. We sold 98 percent of what we had, and the pop culture items brought us a lot of new bidders. We posted many of those items on social media and got more hits than anything else we’ve ever posted. That’s where the market is today and we’re responding to it.” His father, Duane, said “we’ve seen a lot of changes in the business since we began in 1967. The current interest in pop culture is just the latest change. We have to be aware of what’s happening in the marketplace. We read the Bee [Antiques and the Arts Weekly] every week to see what’s happening.”
Prices include the buyers’ premium as reported by the auction house. For more information, www.merrillsauction.com or 802-878-2625.
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