Published: August 11, 2015
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack;
Additional Photos Courtesy Willis Henry Auctions.
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Miniatures and silhouettes from the Howard Fertig collection did very well at Willis Henry Auctions’ two-day folk art auction on August 1–2. More than 450 lots were sold over the two days. The Fertig collection also included memorial art, calligraphy, folk paintings by well-known artists and several good trade signs. The sale also had items from Ed Clerk’s estate and that of William Moore. Those collections and others added good country furniture, an interesting collection of Fairbanks scales, whirligigs, baskets and more.
It was a well-rounded sale, with about 75 bidders in the room each day, competing with several phone lines and a very active group of Internet bidders. Sales for the two days totaled $453,498. Only 25 lots were passed, about 5½ percent of the total.
The leading lot of the sale was a portrait miniature by British painter G.L. Saunders The sitter was Susan Coombs Dana, a lovely young woman from a prominent Boston family, wearing a blue dress with white lace, a tartan shawl and a gold necklace with a cameo brooch. Signed and dated 1845, it finished at $19,200, far in excess of its $2,000 estimate. The selling price also appears to be far in excess of previous works by the artist. George Lethbridge Saunders (1807–1863), a British miniaturist who exhibited at the Royal Academy, worked in the United States from 1839 to 1851.
He created portraits of prominent citizens in Charleston, Columbia, Savannah, Richmond, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and New York before returning to England in 1851. Among his American sitters were General Jubal Anderson Early (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Mayor Bigelow of Boston (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis (National Portrait Gallery, Washington). Thanks to portrait miniature specialist Elle Shushan for the biographical details. Note that Henry’s catalog used different dates for this artist.
There were numerous other portrait miniatures from the Fertig collection in the sale, and there may have been some very good buys. Outselling the others was a double portrait by James S. Ellsworth (1802–1874) of Deacon and Mrs Beers in Williamstown, Mass. Fertig had purchased it at a Sotheby’s auction in April 1978. Fertig was an enthusiastic researcher and kept detailed records of the provenance of his purchases. His notes accompanied each lot, providing information not always available when purchasing at auction. Adding to the interest of Fertig’s collection was the fact that many of the pieces had been off the market for three decades or more.
An unsigned, historically important portrait miniature of Captain Jeremiah O’Brien brought $7,800. In the background was his sloop, Unity, which defeated HMS Margaretta in the 1777 Battle of Machias, the first naval battle of the American Revolution. After this battle, several privateers sailed from Machias and O’Brien was considered a hero. Another unsigned miniature, perhaps of a sea captain, sold for $6,600 to Tom Jewett and Butch Berdan, Newcastle, Maine, dealers. They also bought another miniature of an unidentified sitter from Ellsworth, Maine.
Selling well above its $600 estimate was a miniature portrait of the Reverend William Thatcher, a Congregational pastor. It was done by Edward Weyburn Goodwin (1800–1845), mounted in a finely engraved gold frame and it brought $6,440. A portrait of an unidentified gentleman, attributed to John Brewster Jr (1766–1854), sold for $7,500.
An unusual and well done watercolor miniature memorial may have been one of the bargains of the sale. It was actually done in three dimensions with a mother-of-pearl obelisk as a center of interest. It showed a young woman floating to heaven on rays of sunlight, with her mother seated next to the obelisk and holding her heart. It had a woven hair back and a monogram that might be LAK. Auctioneer Willis Henry said that it was Howard Fertig’s favorite piece. It brought only $1,200.
Perhaps classified as a portrait miniature, and perhaps another very good buy, was an unusual portrait of George Washington. It was a small silver plaque with a three-dimensional portrait of Washington, hallmarked Thomas Hammersley (1727–1781). Hammersley was a New York silversmith whose work is in Colonial Williamsburg and other major collections. Several of his pieces have sold at auction for five-figure prices. This one went out at $3,300. Also relating to Washington was a memorial watercolor “Sacred To The Memory of the Illustrious Washington.” It made $4,800. A rare cloth map of the city of Washington, printed in Boston by Samuel Hill, circa 1792, went to an Internet bidder at $8,400.
The Fertigs aggressively collected silhouettes, and several were sold in lots of two or four. An unusual hollow-cut silhouette attributed to deaf-mute artist James Hosley Whitcomb went out at $3,600. It was stamped “June the 5 1838” and showed a well-dressed gentleman facing left. Stamped under the image was “sitter Jonathan L. Stone Aged 39, born Aug the 25 1799.” Selling for the same price was another hollow-cut silhouette and watercolor, this one attributed to the Puffy Sleeve Artist. The young woman, holding a book, wore a rose-pink dress with blue ribbons and a white collar. She was not named but her book was inscribed “age 25 yrs, 1834.” A second silhouette by the Puffy Sleeve Artist sold for $2,880 to the same buyer, Douglas Bristol, a collector from Chicago.
Bristol told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that he considered these pieces very much like contemporary art. And he said, “It’s usually hard to get good provenance. So much of the stuff at this sale had the details on when and where something was acquired, what it cost and other information that Fertig may have had.” Some silhouettes were cut by artists with severe disabilities. One such example was labeled on the back “S.E, Staples, at 25, cut without hands by M.A. Honeywell (Martha Ann).” Many of the silhouettes were purchased by Peggy McClard, a dealer from Houston, who specializes in them.
Several major American folk artists were represented in the Fertig collection In addition to the James Ellsworth double portrait mentioned earlier, there were works by Horace Bundy, John Blunt, William Matthew Prior and others. A John S. Blunt oil on canvas portrait of Jonathan Holman, showing “The Celery Tree” in the background, brought $6,000. A portrait of a young gentleman in a white collar and black tie by Horace Bundy (1818–1833) seemed reasonable, fetching $1,920. Two portraits by William Matthew Prior (1806–1873) each brought about $4,200 A portrait attributed to John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) finished at $3,000. Inscribed on the back of the stretcher was “Josiah Shackford, Lieutenant of the Frigate Raleigh, July, 1776.” In the background was a ship that may have been the Raleigh. The ship was active in the early years of the American Revolution.
A centennial Queen Anne maple highboy with a carved fishtail base on replaced legs fetched $5,640. There was a group of painted country furniture that, for the most part, sold within or exceeded estimates. A sponge decorated blanket chest, found in Vermont, in dark brown with green accents, finished at $780. A blanket chest in old blue paint with heart-shaped ends sold for $360. An unusual Eighteenth Century pine corner cupboard with original red paint achieved $2,040, and an Eighteenth Century pine keyhole cupboard in old red went below the estimate, making only $840. A narrow pine stepback cupboard, Nineteenth Century, in old blue paint and from the Ed Clerk collection, earned $1,200.
Mechanical and still banks, with wear and/or condition problems, were inexpensive. A lot of eight still banks, including six dogs, made only $120, and a lot of three mechanicals, including an Eagle and Eaglet bank, a William Tell variant and another, brought just $360 for the lot. Jonah and The Whale, working and in better paint, fetched $690. Another lot of nine still banks, including four elephants, went for only $120, and a group of eight farm animal still banks made $150.
An outstanding large red Hingham sugar bucket brought $1,380, and a covered firkin in old blue paint went out at $780. A Nineteenth Century pine century storage box with a gray smoke-grained finish made $780. Pantry boxes continue to do well; a stack of five in various colors ended at $2,280. A 12½-inch burl bowl seemed reasonable, finishing at $1,800, going to Ohio dealer David Good. He also bought an engraved powder horn dated 1816 and engraved with an eagle and shield, a school of fish, a whale and a three-masted ship and more. Good told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that it had a threaded fill-plug, a feature he’d never seen before.
There were several pieces of stoneware, and the second day opened with two early pieces. A 1-gallon ovoid jug, stamped “C. Crolius, Manufacturer, Manhattan Wells, NY,” with incised blue floral decoration, went out at $1,200, more than double its high estimate, and another ovoid 1-gallon jug, attributed to Jonathan Fenton, Boston, achieved $1,560. It had an incised blue fish.
After the sale, Karel Henry told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that she and Will were pleased with results. “I think the silhouettes and the miniatures were the highest lots in general. I was pleased that we were able to draw a knowledgeable group of people to participate in the auctions. I think overall the larger portraits and furniture did alright, but the market is not 2004 anymore and we need to be happy with the prices we get. We still have bidders that love what we have to offer and that keeps us going! We do our best for our consignors, and we let them know in advance that the prices are not the same as they were ten years ago. I think it’s positive that the Internet has a large audience since it’s geared to a younger group of people and collectors who live further away. It enables them to bid and we sense that to be a growing market.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.willishenryauctions.com or 781-834-7774.
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