Published: May 17, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Freeman’s
PHILADELPHIA – “Twenty-six percent of our bidders were new clients, which is really a huge number,” Lynda Cain proclaimed. “The Americana market is an invigorated market.”
Cain, Freeman’s vice president and head of the department who, alongside associate specialist colleague Andrew Taggart, spoke with Antiques and The Arts Weekly by phone a couple of days after Freeman’s May 3 American Furniture, Folk and Decorative Arts sale wrapped, had reason to be pleased. Of the 157 lots on offer, 87 percent traded successfully and the sale’s total – $1,112,832 – considerably exceeded the low estimate of $690,000. A few sales were still pending at press time, so it is likely both the sale total and sell-through rate have been nudged upwards.
As many like to say, “great objects beget great prices,” and that was proven time and again during this sale, which saw as its top lot a piece of Philadelphia furniture that had all the bells and whistles one could want: provenance, rarity of form, condition and an exhibition and publication history that was extensive. The piece in question, which achieved $163,400 and nearly tripled its high estimate, was the Pemberton-Morris-Lloyd Chippendale carved and figured mahogany sideboard table that has traditionally been attributed to Philadelphia cabinetmaker Thomas Affleck (1745-1795), circa 1775. Not only had the piece been on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 2006 to 2021 but its appearance in what is largely considered the first bible for Philadelphia furniture, William M. Hornor Jr’s Blue Book, Philadelphia Furniture – where it was described as “the acme of perfection” – as well as an article in the April 1967 issue of The Magazine Antiques would banish any doubt as to its importance.
The form, rarely seen in American furniture, was an English one introduced to Philadelphia by English furniture and architecture publications and by the London-trained cabinetmakers and joiners who flocked to the city in the second half of the Eighteenth Century. The attribution to Affleck’s shop was one assigned by Hornor, who noted that the probable first owner of the table – James Pemberton – had ordered a large quantity of furniture from Affleck in 1775. It relates to two similar examples; one sold at Christie’s in 2006 and another sold at Sotheby’s in 2004. Unlike both of those examples, Freeman’s table retained its original height.
The buyer of the table was a young private collector outside of Philadelphia.
A piece that achieved $113,400, a “remarkable” price in Cain’s words, was a Chippendale mahogany chest on chest with carving attributed to James Reynolds that had descended in a Pennsylvania family and relates to a chest on chest with history in the Muhlenberg family presently on loan from the Wunsch Americana Foundation to the Speaker’s House in Trappe, Penn. The carving on the one Freeman’s sold can be seen on a high chest sold in 2017 by Sotheby’s and a dressing table in the Pendleton House Collection at the Rhode Island School of Design. A private collector in Pennsylvania prevailed over competition.
A portrait of George Washington in presidential costume by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860) had been offered by Freeman’s in April 2018, when it realized $93,750. Offered nearly four years to the day later, the painting, which included among its former owners William W. Scranton, governor of Pennsylvania, 1963-1967, sold to a buyer from a Southern state who paid $94,500 for it, a virtually identical price.
A rare embroidered and painted “Plan of the City of Washington” that had been made circa 1802 by Grace Turner Cleaver (1786-1862) of Alexandria, Va., achieved $63,000 with institutional interest. The map sampler followed a plan of the city drawn by Pierre Charles L’Enfant and Andrew Ellicott, published by James Thackara and John Vallance of Philadelphia in 1792. According to the catalog, it is the fifth embroidered map of the “Plan of the City of Washington in the territory of Columbia” known to exist. All other related examples are believed to have been worked under the guidance of a Mrs Cooke, who ran a school for young ladies in Alexandria and are in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg, Dumbarton House (The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America) and Winterthur. The fourth example, by Susanna Wilkinson Atkinson, dated 1807, sold at Freeman’s in April 2016, and is in a private collection.
About a quarter of the sale came from a Greenville, Del., estate, and several of the lots finished among the sale’s top results. Leading the group at $32,760 was a Philadelphia Chippendale carved walnut side chair that descended in the Mifflin family. The chair was originally part of a set made ensuite with a dressing table and high chest, probably for John Mifflin (1714-1759), a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. The dressing table and high chest, which had been sold together at Christie’s in October 1996, are at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and promised gifts of the McNeil Americana Collection. Also bringing $32,760 and from the same estate was a Philadelphia Chippendale carved mahogany tilt top table. The John Bartram Queen Anne double dome walnut desk and bookcase schooled its $5/8,000 estimate and sold for $17,640; Cain said she had hoped it would go to Bartram’s Garden, but it sold to a Pennsylvania collector.
The collection was not mid-Atlantic specific and New England was represented by several examples, including a Chippendale block-front chest of drawers ($18,900), a Queen Anne inlaid walnut bonnet top high chest ($13,860) and a Queen Anne inlaid walnut dressing table ($13,860). The couple had also collected ceramics, with two large lots of pepper pots seeing strong interest and results. Sold in two lots, one lot of 45 examples included a painted shelf and realized $11,340, while the other lot, comprising 58 examples, went out for $4,095.
About three dozen lots of silver were offered early in the day, with a covered sugar bowl by New York City silversmith Myer Myers bringing the highest price of the group: $27,720. It was followed at $18,900 by a caudle cup by John Coney of Boston, circa 1700. The cup had provenance to the Eric Martin Wunsch collection and Portsmouth, N.H., silver dealer, Jonathan Trace. Rounding out the top three lots of silver was a circa 1715 two-handled cup by Boston silversmith John Dixwell that had been with the First Congregational Church of Milford, Conn., since its creation to 2001, when it was sold at Sotheby’s and acquired by Roy and Ruth Nutt, who sold it at Sotheby’s in 2016. Estimated at $10/20,000, it achieved $17,640.
Freeman’s next sale will include more flags from the Dr Kenneth Kohn collection and will take place in November.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, www.freemansauction.com or 215-563-9275.
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