Published: August 12, 2003
– Northeast Auctions hosted its biggest and best August Americana Auction at the Center of New Hampshire on August 1-3. In a dramatic advance over its past two seasons, the auction house registered sales of $9.9 million including premium, compared to $7.4 million in 2002 and $5.7 million in 2001.
In three nonstop days at the gavel, auctioneer Ron Bourgeault demonstrated once more that he could reach beyond his core audience of Americana collectors and dealers to generate top bids for objects as diverse as gold coins and glass paperweights.
Overall, prices were exceptionally robust for folk sculpture and for formal furniture in a fine state of preservation. If the market showed any lingering weakness it was in country furniture, bread-and-butter examples of which struggled to achieve figures that would have seemed a given just a few years ago.
Collection of Cora and Ben Ginsburg
When, in October 1983, Christie’s auctioned the inventory of Benjamin Ginsburg, a second-generation member of Ginsburg & Levy — an early, influential and enduring dealer in American and English antiques that survives as Cora Ginsburg LLC and Bernard & S. Dean Levy — the event, commemorated in a hardbound catalog, attracted 3,000 viewers and 900 registered bidders from the United States, England, Germany and Japan. Even in a recessionary market, the results were impressive: $2.1 million on 761 lots.
Ginsburg died in 1994; his wife Cora, a preeminent dealer in costumes and textiles, followed him late last year at age 92. Sotheby’s and Northeast Auctions vied for the honor of selling what remained of Cora and Ben’s collection. Both houses won. Northeast got the contents of the couple’s Tarrytown, N.Y., residence. Sotheby’s will auction Cora’s personal collection of costume and textiles in London in November. Cora years ago gave portions of her collection to Colonial Williamsburg. Her archives have been divided between Winterthur Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Several years ago, Cora sold her business to her protegee, Titi Halle, who continues under her mentor’s name.
The $2.4 million Northeast session, organized by Ginsburg family friend and former dealer Chris Jussel, was staged on Sunday, August 3, the day Northeast generally reserves for its most important properties. The event was attended by clients, friends and family of the late dealers. Present were two of Cora and Ben’s three children. Henry, a curator of Thai books and manuscripts at the British Library, came from London; Carl traveled from Frankfurt, Germany, with his wife.
Paintings produced the session’s biggest prices. Bartholomew Dandridge’s (1691-c.1755) portrait of Lord Carnavron, a patron of the arts who brought Handel to England as his resident composer, and Lady Caroline Leigh as children fetched $277,500 ($50/70,000) from a phone bidder.
Considered icons of the China Trade, four Chinese gouaches sparked the day’s most competitive bidding. Widely known from expert Carl Crossman’s seminal books, The China Tradeand The Decorative Arts of The China Trade, the paintings sold for a cumulative $128,500. American Furnitureeditor and former Chipstone Foundation director Luke Beckerdite bid on all four examples and got three — two depicting Chinese and bamboo furniture making, and one showing the interior of porcelain shop in Canton — for $64,400. The fourth and rarest, the only known view of a Cantonese shop making Western-style furniture, went, for $64,100, to Peabody Essex Museum curator Karina Corrigan on behalf of the Salem, Mass., institution.
Lovely to look at, some of the Ginsburg furniture had restorations no longer considered acceptable by contemporary connoisseurs. Once owned by the noted collector Mrs. J. Amory Haskell, the Carroll Family chest-on-cabinet with desk from Maryland was such a piece. When it came up as part of the Ginsburg sale in 1983, its carving, interior and finial aroused question. At the time, it was reported sold to a collector for $55,000, well below its $80/120,000 estimate. Estimated at $15/25,000, it this time around sold to a phone bidder for $34,500.
Similarly, a bombe desk and bookcase with later embellishments elicited a bid of $39,100 from New York dealer Jonathan Trace, who bought it on behalf of a client. The price was a fraction of what a pristine Eighteenth Century example of the famous Boston form would bring.
Among other notable pieces from the Ginsburg trove was a William and Mary gilt-metal mounted walnut bracket clock by Joseph Windmills of London, sold in the room for $37,950; a Hepplewhite carved mahogany sofa attributed to Samuel McIntire, $34,500, and a Philadelphia Chippendale carved mahogany dressing table, sold to the same absentee paddle for the same price. A New York Federal giltwood and white eglo-mise mirror went for $43,700. A Sheraton demilune Boston or Salem sideboard purchased by Ginsburg & Levy from its client H.C. Lorimer brought $35,650.
Property of a Samuel Gardner Descendant
“The odds of coming across this form in this condition again are next to nil,” said Leigh Keno, who purchased a circa 1710-30 Salem William and Mary walnut and walnut veneer dressing table from the Gardner group for $464,500
The New York dealer continued, “In terms of rarity, quality, condition and provenance, it’s an 11 on a scale of one to ten. The figured veneers are wonderfully chosen, the turnings are bold. The condition is almost untouched. It has its original feet, stretchers and legs. Even the ebonizing is intact.”
Keno also bid on the subsequent lot, a Salem Queen Anne walnut and walnut veneer bonnet-top high chest of drawers, circa 1740-50, that was knocked down in the room to Yardley, Penn., dealer Todd Prickett for $255,500. The dressing table, high chest of drawers and a Salem Queen Anne walnut tea table that sold to a Midwestern dealer and collector seated in the front row for $104,250 had all descended from Gardner to Philip Horton Smith.
Collection of John D. Schapiro, Monkton, Md.
Twenty-three lots totaling more than $775,000 came from John D. Schapiro, a friend, client and sometimes business partner of Israel Sack. Seven of the Schapiro rdf_Descriptions sold by Northeast listed Israel Sack, Inc, in the provenance.
The selection opened with a Massachusetts Chippendale mahogany card table with serpentine front and top. The piece, which sold to Leigh Keno for $43,125, was unusual in that it had cabriole legs and ball and claw feet, rather than more customary straight molded legs.
A Federal mahogany dwarf clock by Joshua Wilder, Hingham, Mass., went to Massachusetts clock specialist Robert Cheney for $101,500 ($30/50,000). The auction’s other important clock, not from the Schapiro group, was an Aaron Willard tall-case example with an engraved label by Paul Revere. It sold to a Pennsylvania collector in the room for $134,500.
A phone bidder acquired a Salem or Marblehead Chippendale mahogany blockfront, slant-top desk for $112,500. Good buys included a New York Federal extension dining table, $134,500 ($150/250,000), and a Boston Queen Anne blockfront dressing table, sold to the phone for $96,000.
“I don’t think we’ve ever offered so many secretaries,” remarked Bourgeault, who nevertheless found buyers for all but one. The cover lot for Saturday’s sale, a Boston bombe bureau bookcase deaccessioned by the New Bedford Whaling Museum-Old Dartmouth Historical Society, failed to sell against the $800,000 reserve, though it did garner one phone bid at $650,000 before passing in the room at $675,000. Some experts thought the top of the case piece was a later addition.
“Brock Jobe suggested that we convene a symposium. You need a minimum of ten expert opinions to come to a conclusion on this piece,” said Bourgeault, who did not rule out a private treaty sale of the secretary, originally owned by Boston merchant William Greenleaf (1725-1803).
Other desks included a Boston Hepplewhite example attributed to John and Thomas Seymour, $68,500; a Connecticut secretary desk-on-frame from the collection of former Winterthur curator John Sweeney, $57,500; and a Connecticut Chippendale cherry bonnet-top desk and bookcase, circa 1785-1800, probably from the Hartford area, sold to the phone for $43,125. The same price was paid for a Southern Hepplewhite figured walnut secretary bookcase with crested eagle inlay.
Of the many side chairs offered, the choicest was a pair of Philadelphia Queen Anne walnut seats illustrated in the landmark Girl Scout Loan Exhibition catalog of 1929. The pair went to dealer G.W. Samaha for $123,500. Other furniture of note included a Rhode Island stretcher-based table, selling to Deanne Levison for $107,000; and a William and Mary tavern table, knocked down to a bidder in the room for $93,250.
There was exuberant bidding on rare and exceptional pieces of folk art. Highlights of Friday’s session included a New York six-gallon stoneware churn marked “T. Harrington/Lyons.” Decorated in cobalt with an eight-pointed fringed starburst, the 193/4-inch vessel left the room at $40,250.
Carvings and shop signs were especially well received. From the collection of George Gravert, a Boston dealer whose European things were auctioned with great success by Northeast in May, came a carved and painted heart and hand that sold to the phone for $79,500. A pair of carved architectural panels by Samuel McIntire fetched $23,000 and a painted and gilded sign advertising J. Baron & Son Jewelers & Opticians, 48 inches long, went to Boston dealer Stephen Score for $26,450.
The largest and most striking work from a group of Prior-Hamblin School portraits, some from the collection of Janice and Brian Oberman, was a signed William Matthew Prior full-length picture of a young girl, $57,750. Attributed to Prior, four oil on cardboard portraits of members an unidentified family sold in the room for $68,500.
Weathervanes were another hot ticket. A J. Howard horse, 24 inches long, went to New Hampshire dealers Cheryl and Paul Scott for $70,700; a Cushing & White gilded copper fire pumper with two horses, two firefighters and a carriage with gages, pressure valve and boiler, 39 inches long, sold for $65,750; a full-bodied ram weathervane, 28 inches long, left the room at $46,000; and Ohio dealer Austin Miller acquired a 351/2-inch-long prancing horse and groom for $41,400.
On a final note, Friday’s session began with 119 paperweights from the Robert M. Whittemore collection. They garnered more than $400,000. The day ended with nearly two dozen lots of American gold coins from a Pennsylvania family and a New England estate. The most expensive was a United States gold ten-dollar coin, $74,000, of 1796, embellished with a profile portrait of Liberty encircled by stars.
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