Published: March 6, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy The Cobbs Auctioneers
PETERBOROUGH, N.H. – The salesroom was just about full as Charlie Cobb got his February 10 auction underway. It was expected that a portrait of a Maori princess would be the lead item in the auction, and it was, bringing $21,600. Shaker smalls, many of which came directly from the Enfield, N.H., community, included some unusual pieces, and jewelry offerings drew active bidding and strong prices. There were items that surprised everyone, including a collection of Mandarin Chinese hat buttons that brought more than ten times expectations. Cobb talked about “grapevine rumors” that he was about to retire and discussed his plans for the future, both business and personal.
The top lot, a striking portrait of a Maori princess painted by New Zealander Gottfried Lindauer (1839-1926) realized $21,600. The artist was known for his numerous Nineteenth Century paintings of Maori leaders, and he produced several, many of which are in museums in New Zealand. According to a website for the Aukland Art Gallery, Lindauer settled in New Zealand in 1874 where he met businessman Henry Partridge, who over the next 30-plus years commissioned Lindauer to paint numerous portraits of eminent Maori, both living and deceased, as well as large-scale depictions of reenactments of traditional Maori life and customs. The aim of the project was to create a pictorial history of Maori at a time when it was widely, though mistakenly, believed that Maori were dying out, either literally or as a distinct cultural group. This painting, Cobb later said, sold to a bidder on the phone from Australia, who outlasted several internet bids. Other paintings did well, with a “View of Jerusalem from Mount Scopus” by Eugene Boudin, (French, 1824-1898) earning $12,000.
One of the fun things about live auctions is that every now and then a particular item will really take off, getting the audience fully involved. It does not have to be a particularly expensive lot, or one that was clearly assigned a low estimate. Such a lot in this sale was a group of 16 Mandarin Chinese hat buttons. Not surprisingly, not everyone knew what they were, including this writer. Two people on the phone not only knew what they were but wanted them. For those who do not know, the catalog explains: “The hat buttons range in size from 2 inches to 2½ inches each with a brass floral figured top cap and base and a central screwed in button for attaching it to the hat. In the center are round pierced balls of colored glass, stone, etc.” The lot was estimated at $200/300 but sold for $4,500.
Another item that surprised both the audience and the auctioneer was a heavily carved Spanish baroque rosewood four-post tester bed, thought to date from the late Seventeenth or early Eighteenth Century. The bed’s flat tester had been fitted with a needlepoint valence depicting floral vines, and it had the original bed rails, brass tipped bolts, finials, etc, all of which were not altered. The bed was professionally redesigned to accept a queen-size mattress without disturbing the antiquity of the bed. Estimated at $1,500, it went to a phone bidder for $5,400.
The sale included a good selection of about 40 Shaker smalls, mostly in old paint. The items came from one owner whose family had purchased the items in the 1920s when the Enfield Shaker community closed in 1923. Some prices seemed quite reasonable, selling well under the estimates, while some interested several bidders and brought stronger prices. Bringing the top price of the selection was a butternut Shaker sewing box with 15 painted spools. The box opened to reveal a tray with nine sewing items, which when lifted out gave access to the 15 spools set on metal spikes. Estimated at $700, it finished at $4,800. Certainly seeming to be a bargain was a red painted dough box from Canterbury or Enfield. It was more than 30 inches long but brought only $240. A 10-5/8-inch burnt orange, four-fingered oval box also seemed reasonable at $720.
There was unexpected strength in some of the jewelry lots. Realizing $8,400 against an estimate of $1,500, was a diamond, baroque pearl and gold pendant brooch. It was unmarked, with a yellow wash over white gold on the reverse, and there were four 4.5 millimeter round diamonds with seven white pearls. Also popular with bidders was a yellow gold, diamond pendant brooch in the form of a butterfly, with ruby accented eyes and a rose cut encrusted body with a baroque freshwater pearl. It more than doubled its estimate, finishing at $9,000.
Recently, there have been rumors that this would be The Cobbs last year in business and that Charlie had sold the restored mill building in which he lives and conducts his auctions. The rumors are not true. Over the next few years, he said he plans to convert the commercial rental spaces in the building into condominiums, along with the apartments in the building. He is now 78 years old, and when the conversions are completed, will think about retirement. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual.
“As usual” is not entirely accurate. Some of the upcoming sales will be online only. Two experienced, young staff members, Nick Prior and Molly Williams, will be conducting those sales, under The Cobbs banner and with Charlie Cobb’s involvement. The first sale, which will take place soon, will be devoted to tribal arts. Before joining The Cobbs, Williams worked in Bonhams’ tribal arts department in New York City. They expect that their second sale will be devoted to firearms and a jewelry sale may be down the road.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium For information, www.thecobbs.com or 603-924-6361.
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