Published: September 2, 2015
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack,
Additional Photos Courtesy Northeast Auctions
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Is there a lull in the antiques business? Is brown furniture hard to sell? Northeast Auctions principal Ron Bourgeault’s August 14–16 sale answered both of those questions with a loud “No.” It is true that he had wonderful material to work with, but solid marketing brought out the buyers. Offerings included the personal collection of Jerry and Selma Blum, the American furniture collection of Jill and Mickey Baten, the Huberty collection and an excellent assortment of marine arts, China Trade porcelain, historical documents and so much more. The sale was conducted at Northeast’s Portsmouth headquarters and the preview filled three buildings. The three-day sale occurred under a tent and it was filled for the sale of the Baten and Blum collections, which took place on August 15. More than a dozen phone lines competed with bidders under the tent and Internet bidders also participated. The three-day sale grossed $5,142,180. More than 230 numbers were given out on site, and there were more than 300 phone bidders. Bourgeault said that he was very pleased that five items were going to museums.
Some of the items being offered were truly the best of the best. The separately cataloged Baten collection comprised 29 lots of American furniture, mostly from the Eighteenth Century. The Blum collection, about 600 lots, included outstanding American furniture, mocha, early metalwares and paintings. The Huberty collection included Philadelphia furniture, early silver and outstanding Chinese Export porcelain. The third day of the sale included marine arts, China Trade paintings, painted furniture, garden ornaments and numerous paintings, including an Andrew Wyeth watercolor that was bought by his son, Jamie. The list could go on and on.
New England furniture specialist Peter Eaton, Newbury, Mass, discussed the Blum collection with Antiques and The Arts Weekly the day after the sale. When asked what had created such a high level of interest, Eaton responded, “The fact that this collection was assembled in the 1940s and 1950s, and remained intact, was a major factor in creating the high level of interest. It was a lifestyle collection, representing the tastes of Jerry and Selma. They bought from the very best dealers, Israel Sack, John Walton, Lillian Cogan, Mary Allis and others of that quality. They relied on the advice of these dealers and assembled a collection with so much great stuff. It’s the kind of collection that hasn’t hit the market in years. And the fact that it was sold virtually intact increased the level of interest. So much of the great stuff was sold to agents, acting for collectors. That’s a major change in the way business is done today. At these price levels, dealers are rarely buying for inventory and the top-of-the-line collectors rely on their agents to evaluate the objects, verifying authenticity and condition.”
Eaton was correct. Most of the top-dollar lots in the sale were bought by dealers with their clients on the phone. The Blum collection grossed $2,328,510, and only about 20 lots were passed.
A circa 1770–1800 Colchester, Conn., block front, shell-carved chest on chest from the Blum collection was the expected star of the three days. It was attributed to Samuel Loomis, a Colchester cabinetmaker, and the piece was called a “masterpiece” in Albert Sacks’ New Fine Points of American Furniture. Colchester antiques and fine art dealer Arthur Liverant bought it for a client and paid $408,000. The day after the sale, Liverant told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that Jerry Blum had always said, “This piece transcends price.”
Liverant said Colchester cabinetmakers, as well as other New London County artisans, were influenced by work being done in Newport, New York, Philadelphia and the Connecticut River Valley. Their customers were prosperous farmers and merchants, many of whom were involved with maritime enterprises. As were the cabinetmakers, they, too, were aware of trends in urban areas. In Liverant’s opinion, Loomis, more than his contemporaries, was willing to innovate and experiment with new designs and novel construction techniques. Liverant considers the work of Eliphalet Chapin, one of Connecticut’s master cabinetmakers, to be much more conservative than the work done by Loomis. He said, “This chest on chest is particularly desirable because of its many fantastic carved elements. They’re so compact, well balanced and executed. It’s a wonderful expression of what Connecticut cabinetmakers are known for — originality, creativity and individuality. Loomis never duplicated his designs, always trying to make the best piece he could. And it’s a relatively small size.”
Loomis not only made block front furniture, he also produced simpler pieces to sell at varying prices, depending on the needs of his clients. Liverant said that Loomis had several apprentices who went on to open their shops. Commenting on the piece, Woodbury, Conn., dealer David Schorsh said, “I thought it was great. I loved it.”
Many of the items in the Blum collection sold at prices in excess of their high estimates. The second highest priced piece of furniture in the sale was a Connecticut Queen Anne carved bonnet top highboy, probably from Middletown or Chatham. It was dated to circa 1775–1800, with pinwheel carving and an elaborately shaped apron. It went out for $168,000. A New England William and Mary turned and painted banister back armchair, with a pierced heart, sold for $7,000 against an estimate of $2,500, and a smoke decorated Queen Anne pine and maple tavern table, estimated at $12,000, finished at $38,400.
Other highlights of the Blum collection included a pair of Seventeenth Century Scandinavian brass candlesticks that fetched $8,640; a pair of English brass ring-turned trumpet candlesticks, circa 1650, that brought $18,000; a Hudson Valley pine hutch table with traces of old brown, black and red paint made $20,400; a cast iron fireback from the Oxford Furnace, Warren County, N.J., dated 1746 and cast with the British royal coat of arms achieved $12,600; and a pair of portraits by Thomas Sully of “Mr and Mrs Reeve Lewis of Philadelphia,” dated 1808, earned $72,000.
A carved and brass-mounted mahogany worktable made by Duncan Phyfe sold for $105,600. A December 1812 bill of sale, referenced in the catalog description, indicates that the table was made for James Kelso at a cost of $52. A Queen Anne Massachusetts lowboy, inlaid with walnut and burl walnut, circa 1730–50, sold for $96,000. Furniture scholar Kemble Widmer had been examining the lowboy during the preview and found an Eighteenth Century chalk inscription “William Wigglesworth” on a drawer bottom. Widmer speculated to Antiques and The Arts Weekly that the lowboy may have at one time been accompanied by a highboy and that the set may have originally been a wedding present.
Selma Blum loved mocha, according to Jonathan Rickard, author of the standard reference on mocha, and the sale included about a dozen lots of “dipped fan” pattern pieces. Bourgeault said that it was the finest collection of the pattern he had ever seen — and he has sold a lot of mocha. The largest piece, a 9½-inch baluster-form jug, brought $26,400, and it has an interesting sale history. Rickard paid $6,600 for it at a Skinner sale in 1989. He sold it at a Skinner sale in 2001 for $50,400.
According to Rickard, it was bought by Jonathan Trace for Selma Blum. When asked what made this piece great, Rickard told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “The condition of the piece is extraordinary and the colors are more saturated on this piece than almost any other I’ve seen. It’s a large, impressive piece and the fans are huge on this one.” Rickard explained that attribution to a specific maker is very difficult with mocha. It was made from 1770 to 1939 by well more than 100 factories, not only in England, but also in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Germany, South America and even in Russia. He said that in the 44 years he has been collecting and studying the subject, he has only seen about 20 examples with makers’ marks and he has seen more than 10,000 pieces.
The Jill & Mickey Baten Collection
Twenty-nine pieces from the American furniture collection of Jill and Mickey Baten were offered on August 15 and were described in a separate catalog. A set of four Chippendale carved mahogany side chairs, attributed to Thomas Tufft, Philadelphia, circa 1770, led the collection, bringing $105,000. Not far behind was a mahogany Chippendale block front desk, attributed to Nathaniel Gould, Salem, Mass., circa 1770–81. The molded base was centered by an applied shell-carved drop pendant. Widmer, co-author of the recent book on Nathaniel Gould, told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that he is certain that the desk was made by Gould. It sold for $91,200 to Roberto Freitas, a Stonington, Conn., dealer, bidding for a client. Freitas also bought, again for a client, a Philadelphia Chippendale carved wing chair, circa 1770, for $30,000. The collection included a Queen Anne maple day bed that had descended in the Hosmer family of Concord, Mass. The circa 1735–55 day bed was part of a small group of Queen Anne furniture that remained with the family until 1934. It was bought by the Concord Antiquarian Society, which owns other Hosmer family furniture, for $9,600. In all, the 29 pieces of the Baten collection grossed $663,780.
Many of the items in the Baten collection had been purchased through David Schorsch, and he wrote the introduction to Northeast’s catalog. Speaking after the sale, Schorsch told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that the Batens were satisfied with the sale results. Schorsch said that they were the kind of collectors who, if they thought something was beautiful, they bought it. “They had a great eye and assembled one of the finest collections of American furniture and folk art. They were hanging great folk portraits over Chippendale desks when no one else was doing things like that. When I first visited their home in the early ‘80s, I was blown away at the quality of the furniture they had. Much of it was bought from Harold Sack, who made it possible for them to get great stuff. Over the years, they sold or traded some of their finest pieces. Many of those pieces are in well-known public and private collections today. When they sold a great piece, they’d usually buy something similar and that’s what was sold at this auction. They were very loyal to the dealers they did business with.” Schorsch said that he was delighted to have been able to buy back some of the things he had sold the couple, and that they’d be going to other collectors.
The Collection of James Huberty
About 100 items from the collection of the late James Huberty of Stratham, N.H., were sold on August 15. Included was some of the finest Chinese Export porcelain, early silver and Philadelphia furniture. According to Peter Sawyer’s commentary in the catalog, one of Huberty’s favorite pieces was the Massachusetts Chippendale carved mahogany serpentine front chest of drawers that had descended in the Frothingham family. Made in Charlestown or Boston, circa 1780–85, the chest had exuberant ball and claw feet and sold for $25,200. A gilded two-light carved girandole mirror, which Bourgeault said was the finest he had ever seen, fetched $24,000, more than double its estimate. The crest was a carved, displayed eagle on rockwork flanked by dolphins. A Philadelphia carved cherry side chair with a serpentine crest rail with a carved shell and a shell carving on the seat rail brought $25,200.
Huberty had several Georgian silver candlesticks. A group of four George III crested table candlesticks made by Ebenezer Coker, London, circa 1763–64, sold for $19, and a pair of George II figural table candlesticks by John Cafe, London, circa 1749–50, achieved $8,640. Huberty’s collection of Chinese Export porcelain did well. He bought rare colors, armorial pieces and examples decorated with the arms of the United States. A 12½-inch charger decorated with the arms of Lee of Coton and a border painted with scenes of London and Canton finished at $19,200 and led the way. A brown Fitzhugh oval soup tureen, cover and stand, from the Hone family service achieved $12,000, and an orange Fitzhugh dinner plate from the Captain Orne family service, decorated with the Great Seal of the United States, earned $10,800. A green Fitzhugh leaf-shaped dish with the arms ended up at $7,200. A rare yellow Fitzhugh berry dish, circa 1840, brought $7,920. Bourgeault told the audience that Huberty had paid $11,000 for it in 2008.
At least three other items went to museums. A set of four silver camp cups that had belonged to Revolutionary War Major Winthrop Sargent went to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the Department of State. The 42 rooms are used for treaty negotiations, official state lunches and important presidential speeches. The rooms contain about 5,000 fine and decorative arts objects, all of which have been provided by American donors, corporations and foundations. The set of cups, with Sargent’s monogram, was made by Joseph Anthony who was active in Philadelphia 1783–1809. The selling price was $14,400. Sargent served with Henry Knox’s regiment of artillery and later was governor of the Mississippi Territory from 1798 to 1801. A Duncan Phyfe carved and brass-mounted work table, 1812, went to an unnamed museum at $105,600. It had four turned and spiral-carved columns on a fluted plinth base. Also from the Blum collection, and going to an unnamed museum, was the cast iron fireback from the Oxford furnace in Warren County, N.Y., dated 1746, which earned $12,600.
The sale included a number of China Trade paintings. A particularly fine large oil on canvas, “View of the Praya Grande at Macao,” circa 1860, finished at $132,000. Praya Grande was the waterfront promenade when the Portuguese held Macao. The painting showed the Portuguese flag flying from the Guia Fort, the “forty-pillared” house that later became the French Consulate and several ships in the harbor. It measured 32 by 58½ inches. A set of nine small watercolors depicting the growing and processing of tea went out for $7,800, and a China Trade painting of an American bark in Chinese waters may have been a good buy, bringing only $3,240. A portrait of a gentleman in a black coat by Foeiqua, active in Canton 1800–25, fetched $6,000.
The subject of paintings cannot be left without mentioning a large watercolor by Andrew Wyeth showing an old sawmill building with a birch log and a peavey. Included with the painting was the original bill of sale and handwritten notes by the artist, in one of which he describes “The Peavey” as among his best watercolors. It was a well-known painting, having been published in three books about Wyeth and exhibited in museum shows at least twice. The painting brought $156,000. When Antiques and The Arts Weekly asked the buyer what it was that attracted him to the painting, he answered simply, “Because it was painted by my father.” The buyer was Nicholas Wyeth, Cushing, Maine, who said that he buys and sells Wyeth paintings. A pair of folky portraits of a husband and wife attributed to John S. Blunt, aka the Borden Limner, achieved $9,000, and a New Hampshire scene by Samuel Seymour depicting Indians overlooking Salmon Falls went for $9,600.
By any measure, the three-day sale was a success. More than $5 million in sales, $200,000 of which was done on the Internet, well more than 500 bidders, healthy prices and a crowd that obviously was enjoying itself. After the sale, Bourgeault told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that it was his best sale since 2008. He said, “People are interested in collecting again. Prices have come down to the point where many ‘over 60’ buyers are returning to the market, knowing that there are many good buys to be had. And it’s always nice to have stuff go to museums.” Bourgeault added that he was pleased with the format of this sale, saying that this single auction grossed almost exactly the same amount of money as his two sales last August did.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 603-433-8400 or www.northeastauctions.com.
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