Published: June 13, 2023
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring; Photos Courtesy South Bay Auctions
EAST MORICHES, N.Y. — “It was busy and exciting and a long time coming,” said South Bay Auctions’ Jean-Paul Napoli. “It was actually kind of funny; we’ve been in the business so long it felt like we went back in time. We had a lot of returning registrants. A lot of the ‘old timers’ were back, and people came from all over. It was a great tribute to Jay, it honored his eye and his collection.”
Napoli was talking about the response garnered for the 502-lot Newtown, Conn., estate of historian, appraiser and collector of Americana, Joseph “Jay” St Mark, PhD, which South Bay Auctions offered in two sessions, May 24 and 25. Though he did not disclose the sales’ totals, he confirmed that with live, absentee, phone and online bidding, and with as many as 800 people watching the sale at one time, just two lots failed to find buyers during the auction, achieving a sell-through rate of more than 99 percent. Estimates were low to inspire bidding, a strategy that worked well, and Napoli said interest was consistent throughout, without a single item standing out as being something everyone wanted.
Furniture was the undisputed star of the show, yielding several of the event’s highest prices, including the top lot of the weekend, an American country table with single board top with breadboard ends on a gray-painted base, with tall cabriole legs with pad feet. It had been cataloged as Nineteenth Century, but Napoli said he had been conservative in terms of date and it might have been Eighteenth Century. Interest in the table inspired a heated competition between two determined phone bidders; one of them prevailed to take it for $21,000.
According to Napoli, tavern tables — there were five in all — got a lot of attention. “People really scrutinized them. As I walked through the preview, I kept hearing them say, “This one’s clean too!” True to form, a New England Queen Anne maple tavern table with an oval top, turned splayed legs and box stretchers with black feet rose to the second highest price of the day: $16,800. An American country Queen Anne tea table with rectangular dish-top, cabriole legs with pad feet and remnants of original paint made $7,920.
Napoli described St Mark as being an avid collector, with numerous examples of many forms. “You can only sell so many chairs and highboys.” For the former category, a pair of Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century banister back armchairs with rush seats earned the category’s highest price of $5,640, while case furniture reached its apex at $10,560 with a Connecticut Queen Anne cherry highboy with darkened old varnish.
The smallest category in the sale was that of rugs and carpets, with just one opportunity for buyers but it was an attractive example, described as a “room size Oriental,” with “repair, areas of heavy wear, moth damage and loss at end borders.” Despite the condition issues, it captured the sale’s third-highest price of $11,040.
One of the largest categories, with nearly three dozen examples, was that of weathervanes, with a plethora of forms, from quills to cars and everything in between. The most desirable, if price was an indicator, was a full-bodied molded and painted zinc cow weathervane with cast zinc head that stood 16 inches high and was 26 inches long. Bidders chased it from its $800-$1,200 estimate to a $11,000 finish. It was followed at $9,250 by a molded copper quill example, 4 feet long, and a 29½-inch long full-bodied molded and patinated copper fish weathervane that swam to $8,750.
One of the lots with the highest estimate — $1,5/2,500 — was a full-bodied molded and gilded setter dog weathervane that was attributed to the New York City firm of E.G. Washburn & Co. It was one of a small field of ‘vanes that were linked to specific firms, coincidentally all from Waltham, Mass., joining a Cushing & White cow ($5,640) and an eagle ($6,125) and two horses from A.L. Jewell & Co, offered back-to-back, that rode to $3,250 and $2,520, respectively.
A few unusual and rarely seen forms were represented among St Mark’s weathervanes, notably a hollow molded copper car-form example, 29 inches long ($6,480) and a sheet iron one in the shape of a Native American hunter with bow, arrow and dog ($2,125). Bidders chased an American or Canadian full-bodied running fox weathervane to $1,680, while a beaver model, 22 inches long in painted sheet iron, gnawed out $813.
Decoys and sporting art were another sizeable category — arguably one of the largest in St Mark’s collection — and kicked off the first day with a large flock of more than 75 carved and painted decoys. Flying to $10,320 was a hollow drake broadbill example attributed to Peoria, Ill., carver William Lorhmann, with the letters “L.R.” stamped behind the narrow lead keel. According to the catalog, it “stands out as one of the most detailed, perfectly carved and painted examples of Illinois River decoys.” A root head blue heron decoy, by an unattributed maker but probably from Long Island, N.Y., and relating to one illustrated in Adele Earnest’s The Art of the Decoy: American Bird Carvings (1995), achieved $4,320.
The same price of $4,320 was achieved by an American folk art carved wood eagle, depicted standing on a book that had provenance to the collection of dealer Pat Guthmann and was published in American Primitive: Discoveries in Folk Sculpture by Roger Ricco, Frank Maresca and Julia Weissman (1988).
Fine art achieved a category high at $8,400 with “A Prize Pair” by William Hahn (German/American, 1829-1887), that was signed and dated “W. Hahn, Boston 1872” and had a Vose Galleries label. St Mark had acquired the 30-by-49¾-inch oil on canvas composition from CRN Auctions in September 2017, when he paid $8,500 (hammer) for it.
Another highlight of the fine art section was Jurgen Frederick Huge’s (German/American, 1809-1878) “’Bridgeport Steam Tug S.F. Washburn. Adolphus McNeil Captain,” a watercolor and gouache on paper piece, that steamed past its high estimate, to $5,250.
Seventy lots of silver got the second day’s sale off to a strong and sparkly start, notably the $6,125 for a Tiffany & Co sterling silver center bowl, 6-7/8 inches high and 10 inches diameter, that was in the Olympia pattern and featured a repoussé band with scenes from Greek mythology. Tea and flatware sets also proved popular with buyers, with a Gorham seven-piece tea service topping off at $5,400, and a 108-piece .950 silver flatware service for 12, in an unidentified pattern and maker’s mark, that achieved $4,320.
“There’s more to come,” Napoli said. “We sold his jewelry in December of last year and the next three auctions will have a smattering of a few hundred lots of the same kind of Americana.” South Bay Auctions’ next sale will take place in mid July; the remainder will be scheduled in the fall.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, www.southbayauctions.com or 631-878-2909.
September 19, 2023
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