Published: July 25, 2006
These days, every Americana consignor wants his property sold in January. The result is that spring Americana sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s have dried up. Or so it seems.
There were never more than a few dozen people in the salesroom at Christie’s spring sale of Fine American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver and Prints, but bidders, many participating in absentia, pushed the tally in this 250-lot auction to $1.8 million. One lot stood out above the rest.
“It might have done even better than it would have in January,” said Massachusetts dealer David Wheatcroft, who underbid a 32 1/4-inch carved and painted wood sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. Estimated at $60/90,000, the piece sold to Woodbridge, Conn., dealer Allan Katz on behalf of a client for $240,000.
Standing tall with his hand over his heart, the black-clad, bearded figure has been widely known to collectors of American folk art since 1974, when it was included in the landmark exhibition “The Flowering of American Folk Art” at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Jean Lipman and Alice Winchester even devoted a page to its illustration in their accompanying catalog.
“I bought it privately, more than 30 years ago. I kept it in my collection for a while and loved it,” said Litchfield, Conn., dealer Peter Tillou, who sold Lincoln to Howard and Catherine Feldman, who lent it to “The Flowering of American Folk Art.” Lincoln was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1988 for $55,000, said Katz, in the first of two sales of property from the Feldman collection. The sculpture was in a corporate collection until it was recently consigned by the Royal and Sunalliance insurance company, confirmed Christie’s Americana department head Margot Rosenberg.
“It’s just a wonderful sculpture with impeccable provenance and great lineage,” Katz said after the sale.
Wheatcroft also underbid a 16-inch-tall bird tree with six carved and painted birds. Attributed to Schtockshnitzler Simmons, the Pennsylvania folk sculpture went to the phone for $36,000 ($3/5,000). The Westboro, Mass, dealer was successful in his bid for a Nineteenth Century pastel on paper portrait of two children with their dog, $16,200.
Folk sculpture continued its robust performance with a41-inch-tall cigar store figure attributed to Philadelphia carverWilliam Rush selling to an absentee bidder for $96,000. A56-inch-tall cigar store Indian, possibly by Thomas Brooks, crossedthe block at $66,000. Also from the Feldman collection, aneagle-decorated fire hat illustrated on the catalog’s back coverpassed at $6,000, as did an eagle decorated Pennsylvania tavernsign, estimated at $40/60,000, owned by Joe Kindig in the 1930s andlater by John Walton.
Silver, most of it late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century, accounted for 40 percent of the sale. Two Gorham of Providence, R.I., pieces garnered top honors.
“It was made for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Gorham never sold it, so it remained, pristine, in their collection,” Spencer Gordon of Spencer-Marks, Ltd, said of the 14 1/2-inch-tall silver-gilt mounted and amethyst, garnet and moonstone-set claret jug that the East Walpole, Mass., silver dealer underbid for stock. The claret jug sold to an absentee bidder for $38,400 ($5/8,000). Brown-Forman Corporation, Gorham’s parent company until 2005, consigned pieces from the Lenox-Gorham sample archive. After Lenox purchased Gorham in 1991, the company donated 2,000 silver pieces and drawings to the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
Another piece associated with an important exposition was a Haviland & Co., glazed, bronze-mounted and gilt-decorated porcelain urn surmounted by the bust of George Washington and winged figures of Victory and Fame. It sold in the room for $24,000 ($8/12,000). The 23 1/2-inch-tall vessel is fashioned after a pair of 12-foot-high originals shown at the Philadelphia Centennial exposition in 1876.
Also Gorham, but not from company archives, was a salver of historical interest. The circa 1857 chased and engraved platter, $102,000 ($12/18,000), was a gift from the Sephardim Congregation Beth Israel of Baltimore to German-born Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia. Leeser was an important translator and publisher of Jewish scripture in the United States.
Leading furniture sales was a pair of Queen Anne side chairswith their original white oak slip-seat frames and old or originalleather upholstery. Ex-Israel Sack, Inc, the chairs, sold the phonefor $102,000 ($20/30,000), are associated with the Punderson familyof New Haven, Conn., and feature unusual carved rondels on thecenter seat rail.
A set of four New York Chippendale mahogany side chairs more than quadrupled estimate, selling to the phone for $48,800. Eleven Maryland shield -back dining chairs dating to circa 1815 left the room at $36,000.
A New York Federal desk and bookcase with restorations doubled high estimate, selling for $28,800. Ex-Israel Sack, a Salem, N.H., Federal mahogany secretary desk fetched $19,200.
Estimated at $30/40,000, a Dunlap school New Hampshire figured maple tall chest-on-frame went to an absentee bidder for $28,800. A Philadelphia Queen Anne walnut dressing table was passed at $48,000.
Christie’s closed out the session with two Renaissance Revival bronze-mounted and marquetry-inlaid rosewood cabinets attributed to New York cabinetmaker Alexander Roux. Inset with Neo-Egyptian porcelain plaques, the first brought $18,000 ($10/15,000). The second, with Renaissance-style plaques, made $10,800.
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