Published: November 20, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
BOSTON – Skinner had a busy few days with the Marvill Outsider folk art collection and a major Americana sale on November 3, along with the Americana online sale that ended November 4. Results were strong for both, with the top lot bringing $123,000. That price, a pleasant surprise, was achieved by a signed enamel miniature portrait of George Washington by William Russell Birch. It was one of about 275 lots in the Americana portion of the sale, which also included numerous folk paintings from the Kern collection, weathervanes, formal and painted furniture and accessories, game boards, early American silver, redware, hooked rugs and more.
The November 3 sale began with 116 lots from the Marvill collection of Outsider and self-taught art, assembled by Mickey and Jill Baten over a period of about 30 years, which grossed $241,941. The top price of that collection, $23,000, was achieved by a circa 1870 carved pine figure in a top hat. The 684 lots in the online-only portion of the sale were highlighted by a religious-themed painting by Pennsylvania artist John Landis, which sold for $20,910, more than 15 times the estimate. Many of the items in the online-only sale drew numerous bids and final prices in excess of estimates. Combined, the sales grossed $1,518,914.
The Outsider and self-taught folk art collection assembled by the Batens was well known in the field and had been considered one of the finest of its kind. The couple bought from top dealers. Much of the material came from the Ricco/Maresca Gallery, one of the leading dealers in this category which did much to develop the market from its New York gallery and extensive writing on the subject. Many of the items in Baten collection were illustrated in the books written by Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco, American Vernacular, American Primitive and others. Steve Powers, president of the Antique Dealers Association of America, is a leading dealer in this category and was present and bidding at the sale. A few days after the sale, Powers said that he thought prices were on the low side, especially relative to what had been paid when the collection was assembled, although most items sold within estimates. “The material was the best of its kind, and collectors knew that,” said Powers. “In general, the Batens bought the best from the best dealers, but the market has changed. They were confident in their own judgment and bought objects they really liked, regardless of who made it, or even whether the maker was known. Many of today’s collectors are more concerned with provenance than the Batens were. If they liked it, they bought it.”
The 279 lots in the Americana portion of the live sale grossed $845,563, and successful bidders included some from four other countries. This portion of the sale included American furniture, folk art from the Sybil and Arthur Kern collection, tobacconist figures, Vermont redware, Paul Revere Jr silver and numerous White Mountain paintings. It was topped by the Birch enamel miniature portrait of George Washington, dated 1797. Birch (1755-1834), born and trained in England, was a painter, engraver and enamelist. He did more than 60 miniatures of Washington, based on a Gilbert Stuart painting.
Leading the selection of American furniture was a mahogany and mahogany veneer inlaid dwarf clock made by Joshua Wilder, Hingham, Mass., circa 1800-25. The 44-inch clock had an iron dial inscribed in the arch “Joshua Wilder Hingham” and an eight-day time-only movement. Wilder made a number of dwarf clocks and this one sold for $27,060. A circa 1780 Pennsylvania walnut, line and berry inlaid spice chest with 13 drawers exceeded its estimate, finishing at $24,600. Also exceeding the estimate was a Philadelphia Chippendale carved walnut dressing table, circa 1765. It had a shell-carved center drawer, fluted quarter columns, a shaped and scrolled skirt and cabriole legs with shell-carved knees ending in claw and ball feet. It achieved $20,910.
The sale also offered an assortment of card tables, including a pair of figured mahogany double swing-leg Rhode Island tables, circa 1795, which sold for $7,380.
There were two unusual tobacconist figures, and both sold for $14,760. One was a circa 1890 carved and painted figure of a suffragette wearing a blue and white dress, a round hat and holding a box of cigars. According to the catalog, it was the work of Julius Theodore Melchers, (1829-1908) and had been used at a cigar store in Glen Ellyn, Ill. The other was a cast zinc figure of an Indian maiden attributed to William Demuth & Company, New York. She was life-size, with her left arm raised and her right hand holding a removable tomahawk. She wore a headdress, a tunic and a cape. There was a selection of weathervanes, the most sought-after of which was a molded copper figure of a young woman tennis player. A tennis racquet was extended in one hand. The catalog dated her to the second quarter of the Twentieth Century and she sold for $13,530. A molded copper angel Gabrielle weathervane, with detailed horn, head and wings, went out for $10,455.
If you think that Skinner’s online-only sales comprise items “not good enough” for the cataloged sales, you’re wrong. The sale grossed $431,410, with more than 5,000 bids placed, an 85 percent sell-through rate and with successful bidders coming from 30 states and two foreign countries. At the peak, 27 bids per minute were being recorded. The lots had been available for viewing and bidding on the Skinner website since October 25 and were available for hands-on viewing in the Boston gallery during the preview for the live sale. Included were paintings from the Kern collection, furniture, early glass, redware, game boards, daguerreotypes, painted wall and candle boxes, stoneware, marine items and much more. Estimates were conservative, and many prices far exceeded the estimates. For example, the highest price was earned by an oil on canvas, “Adoration of the Shepherds,” by Pennsylvania artist John Landis, who was born in 1805. The painting, from the Kern collection, was estimated at $800-$1,200 but finished at $20,910
A few days after the sale, Steve Fletcher, Skinner’s executive vice president, said that several of the items that had been passed during the live sale had been sold. “We had some great stuff. The Marvill collection was the best of its kind, the Kern collection included some wonderful folk paintings and the American furniture was high quality. Prices, in general were good, and buyers recognized the rarities and bid accordingly. That’s what’s supposed to happen.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium, as stated by the auction house. For more information, www.skinnerinc.com or 617-350-5400.
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