Published: November 7, 2006
A hotly contested Berks County dower chest with “black unicorn” decoration brought out buyers of Pennsylvania German material at Skinner on Sunday, November 5. Together with its single-owner sale of the Tracey collection on November 4, the Boston auction house grossed $4,010,238, its second highest tally for an Americana sale.
Inscribed “Bern, Berks County, Adam Minnich, 1796,” the chest, painted robin’s egg blue with black, rampant unicorns, birds, rampant lions, crowns, tulips and compass designs, sold over the phone to Olde Hope Antiques on behalf of a client for $440,000 ($25/35,000). The underbidder was David Wheatcroft of Westborough, Mass.
“It’s one of the most exciting dower chests to come on the market since we’ve been in business. It’s condition is extraordinary,” said Pat Bell of Olde Hope. The New Hope, Penn., dealers plan to remove the secondary coat of varnish currently obscuring some of the furniture’s brilliant original color. “It’s going to be an eye-popper,” said Bell.
The bidding reversed when an oil on panel farm scene set in Rensselaer County, N.Y., crossed the block. Attributed to Joseph H. Hidley, an itinerant artist whose work is in the collections of several major museums, the circa 1860 painting sold to Wheatcroft underbid by Olde Hope for $110,500 ($8/12,000).
“I can’t tell you how long its been since a Hidley came up for sale. They are just so scarce,” said Wheatcroft.
Boston dealer Stephen Score, who in January paid $1.08 million for a Liberty weathervane at Christie’s, acquired Skinner’s China Trade reverse painting on glass of Liberty as the goddess Hebe for $336,000 ($40/60,000). The two Liberties went to different clients, Score said.
“Its condition is a dream and its color is superb,” said Score. “The iconography — including an eagle, flag, liberty cap, a Doric column and miscellaneous references to the era’s revolutionary sentiments — is wonderful.” Liberty stands on the key to the Bastille with the Boston lighthouse in the distance. A lighting burst signifies the political electricity of the time, said Score.
A complete review will appear in a in a future issue.
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