Published: September 27, 2016
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Photos Courtesy of Gurley Auction Co. and Rachel Gurley
PARSONSFIELD, MAINE — In the end, it wasn’t about numbers but memories, friends and cherished items during what Rachel Gurley, daughter of the indomitable dealer/show manager Nan Gurley, who died earlier this year, said was her mom’s last party. Gurley’s family intended that the sale of Nan’s collections would be a “celebration of her life,” not just an auction. The September 17 event was just that. Her friends came from all over New England. Everyone had a favorite story about Nan, and they were often prefaced by something like, “My favorite story is…but you can’t print that!” Sandy Jacobs summed up the feeling of many, when she said, “Nan always told it like it was.”
Everything from the hip-roof Federal period home and barn had been moved into a tent behind the house. The sale was conducted by auctioneer Josh Gurley, Nan’s son. He and his staff displayed the material to be sold attractively and conducted the sale smoothly. Rusty Farrin, well-known Randolph, Maine, auctioneer, relieved Josh Gurley periodically, donating his services for his friends. There were numerous absentee bids and, at times, multiple phone lines were in use, but there was no internet bidding. About 150 to 200 people were in the tent as the sale got underway, many of whom had exhibited at the shows Nan ran for about 30 years, or bought things in her shop. Many were close friends who had visited her during her final illness, to which she succumbed in March of this year.
Nan Gurley was a collector and dealer, but there were numerous things in her home that she would not sell. Things that were given to her as gifts by family and friends were never for sale. An emotional Rachel Gurley said, “Josh and I always shopped the Thanksgiving show in Marlboro and the August show at the Deerfield fairgrounds, looking for things we could give as Christmas or birthday presents. Everything is being sold. The only thing I’ve kept is the first antique I ever bought with her and the last. All the other stuff is here in the tent.” Both Rachel and Josh said, “She wanted her friends to have the opportunity to share her things. Selling the things like this is exactly what she wanted. We were able to use her mailing list, so we could let everyone know about the auction.”
As expected, the top selling lot of the auction was a table described as a Maine Shaker, tiger maple trestle table. It was the first item sold, and as he was selling it, Josh said, “This was our kitchen table for 40 years.” Longtime Shaker collector Drew Epstein and his wife, dealer Sandy Jacobs, paid $14,850 for the table. Epstein said that, “I’ve never seen that particular form before and couldn’t find it any of the books on Shaker furniture. It’s a great table, regardless of who made it or where it was made.”
Beyond the table, it was clear that Nan Gurley liked things in original paint, folky things and things like hand painted trade signs. So did the people who came to the auction. A bean-bag game, with a golliwog type of face and suit brought $4,400. It went to Tom Jewett and Butch Berdan, Newcastle, Maine, dealers, who had been friends of Nan’s for many years. The next day, Jewett said, “We were really pleased that we were able to get the things we really wanted. These were the things that Nan would never sell and that we looked at every time we came to visit and so many of the things had stories. Nan loved pen wipes and there was a very unusual one with a very large dog on it. Roger Bacon gave it to her on one of his visits to the house and it was never available for sale. We’re glad to take that home.” Firkins in old paint did well, with a blue one, about 10 inches tall which brought $605, a red one the same size finished at $385 and a green one earned $330.
Other painted smalls did well. A round pantry box with free-hand squiggles on the top and sponge decorated “balls” all around the box, reached $1,540, and a mortar and pestle by the same hand, with matching decoration, brought $880. You might have thought they’d have been bought by the same person, but that was not the case.
A document box, in red, with a basket of flowers stenciled on the front achieved $2,640, while a small box with a painted shell-decorated sliding top, went for $880. You don’t normally expect a pair of snowshoes to sell for $588, but Nan had a pair with red frames and red webbing and that’s what the pair brought. Surprising the crowd was a small child’s sized niddy-noddy, 9 inches long, in old blue with red decoration, which made $1,210. Josh Gurley said, “Mom sold it for a lot of money and then bought it back for more.”
There were some exceptional items that will probably make some money for the dealers who bought them. Perhaps one of the better buys of the day was a 15-inch-tall horse pull toy, reminiscent of the works of Elie Nadelman. Needing a repair to one ear, it had a horse-hair tail, an old worn dark-bluish surface and it realized $2,750. A very colorful large theorem of a mourning scene, with a stream, a bridge and houses in the background, sold to Sandy Jacobs for $2,640. Perhaps not exceptional, but certainly a good buy, was a 21-inch chalkware figure of a seated collie that went out for $28.
A double-sided, 98-inch red and white trade sign promoting the “Japanese Bazaar” sold for $1,760; a sign for “Kittredge & Greene Co. Painters,” with an appropriate green background, realized $770; and a small “Keep Off The Grass” sign that Nan used went for a surprising $495. Nan also liked small watercolors. A colorful painting of shells, just about 3½ inches square, earned $880 and an ink drawing of a cat went to a bidder in the tent for $275. A watercolor of a mounted Napoleon, 7½ by 9½ inches went out for $440 and a slightly larger, but quite unusual, hand made alphabet puzzle with a purple/pink snake curled through it finished at $1,925. “Mom’s favorite sewing box” in overall white with red squiggles, earned $605.
From Nan’s bedroom, a Prior-Hamblin portrait of a young girl with a basket of flowers, earned $3,135, and a portrait of a York, Maine, ship captain, from the living room, reached $660. A grain-painted blanket chest, which Josh said had been their television stand, was reasonable, going out at $330. There were several other interesting, unusual items. A very tiny, early miniature slant front desk, only 1-3/8 inches wide and 1½ inches tall, achieved an unexpected $1,705, and a small Eighteenth Century floral decorated needlework pot holder went to a phone bidder for $1,045. Josh called it “the most quintessential Nan Gurley thing.”
A set of six arrowback chairs in yellow paint with floral decoration on the crests and spindles achieved $1,320. A colorful penny rug, 39 inches in diameter, went for $413, and a stack of wallpaper boxes, sold individually, ranged from $770 for the smallest blue one down to $28 for a slightly faded one. A 26-inch handmade doll, with a carved and painted head, with old clothes, reached $1,100.
After the sale, Josh Gurley said, “We’re pleased with the way the sale went. Mom would have been pleased, and we thank everyone for coming.” Rachel added, “The sale wasn’t about money, or how much this or that sold for. It was about the stuff Mom loved. It was her last party.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium. For more information, call 207-229-0403.
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