Published: November 24, 2015
Review And Onsite Photos By Rick Russack
Catalog Photos Courtesy Northeast Auctions
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — The two-day fall weekend auction at Northeast Auctions October 31–November 1 brought together a rich assortment of American furniture, mocha and other creamware, Meissen, historical prints and documents and early metals.
Most of the expected top lots performed as anticipated and there were some surprises as well. The salesroom was packed both days, multiple phone lines were in use and the Internet was active. Dealers — among them Peter Sawyer, Jonathan Trace, Eliott and Grace Snyder, Hollis Broderick, Hilary Nolan, Richard Thorner, Joy and Lee Hanes, Gabe Ficht, Dennis Berard and Don Heller — were present and bidding.
There were almost 900 lots to be sold and Ron Bourgeault was averaging about a hundred per hour. The sale, which included the final portion of the Blum collection, grossed $1,411,000. The Blum material this round accounted for $362,000. Adding the sales from the August sale, the Blum collection grossed $2,690,510. Bourgeault told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that all Blum items were sold — none were passed. That says something about the quality of the collection — and realistic reserves, if there were any.
Paul Revere’s masterful piece of Revolutionary war propaganda, “The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5th 1770, By A Party Of The 29th Reg.” was the top selling lot of the day, bringing $120,000. Revere, a staunch member of the Sons of Liberty, deliberately distorted the depiction of the event, known colloquially as “The Boston Massacre” to create the impression that the British troops were ordered by an officer to open fire on the colonists, and that they enjoyed doing so. The colonists are shown reacting to the British when, in fact, they had attacked the soldiers. Revere’s work has been called one of the most effective pieces of war propaganda in American history. This example was on laid paper, with an LVG watermark and with the clock showing 10:20; it was, therefore, the final state of the print.
There were numerous examples of American furniture. Pieces expected to do well did so while some were good buys. A choice diminutive turret-top card table led the way, selling over estimate for $74,400. The Queen Anne mahogany table was attributed to Boston or Salem, 1740–60. The table had descended in the Andrews-Vincent-Nardone family for more than 190 years. It is pictured in a family photograph from the early Twentieth Century with Mary Nardone sitting alongside it. An early handwritten label on the drawer bottom establishes the provenance. The Nardone house was built in 1675 and is one of the earliest extant houses in Salem. It passed through several generations of the family until being sold to the National Park Service in 1964 for $17,000.
The day after the sale, Exeter, N.H., dealer Peter Sawyer discussed the table with Antiques and The Arts Weekly. When asked what made this table wonderful, he responded, “It’s a very rare form. The small size added to its desirability and the fine condition was definitely a plus. At Christie’s this past January, I bought a similar table for a client and it went for $125,000. This one was well worth its price, and the good provenance just added to it.”
Other early furniture sold within estimates. A mahogany block front, kneehole dressing table, Boston area, circa 1750–70, finished at $18,000. It had a raised panel cupboard door flanked by two banks of three blocked drawers and John Walton in its provenance. A good pair of Massachusetts carved mahogany rococo side chairs, Boston or Salem, circa 1750–70, reached $13,200. The serpentine crest rails, each with a carved central leaf and scrolled ears, were above pierced “cross-eyed” owl splats.
A bonnet-top Massachusetts Chippendale block front chest-on-chest earned $24,000. It was pictured in Sack’s Fine Points…, rated “better,” and it doubled its high estimate. While selling a Massachusetts mahogany block front desk, Bourgeault told the crowd, “I’ve known about this desk since I was seven years old. It has always been in the family, and I’m glad to finally have the chance to sell it.” He dated it to 1770 from the Boston-Charlestown area. It had been in the family of a descendant of Benjamin Frothingham and it went for $10,800.
Probably destined for the Winter Antiques Show, a William and Mary two-drawer blanket chest in old red paint sold for $20,400, over six times the high estimate. It had exceptional turned trumpet legs in the front, a great surface and probably the original hardware. A William and Mary chest of drawers, also in old red paint, on ball feet, also exceeded estimate, reaching $3,120. A William and Mary joint maple and pine stool also fetched $3,120, and rounding out the early pieces, a William and Mary pine blanket chest in an old natural finish made $840. Interestingly, all four of these William and Mary pieces exceeded estimates.
Before moving on to other material in the sale, we have to discuss an exceptional Colonial Revival console table with a large, boldly carved, spread-winged eagle pedestal. Colonial Revival furniture does not get much respect these days, but perhaps the times are changing. This table was estimated at $500/800 but it fetched $21,000 as a determined bidder in the room outlasted a phone bidder. The buyer, who prefers that his name not be used, was asked why the table brought the price that it did. He said the table had been designed by Stanford White, and a companion piece was in the State Dining Room in the White House. Indeed, page 230 of the Betty Monkman book, The White House and Its Historic Furnishings pictures a serving table with the same carved eagles.
The buyer also said that the table had been made by the Davenport Company. The company produced high-end custom-made furniture and also sold fabrics, wallpaper, etc. One of its first major commissions was for 225 pieces of furniture for Hawaii’s Royal Palace. The firm provided furniture to the leading architects of the day. For H.H. Richardson, they provided ornately carved furniture for the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany. For Stanford White, they created furniture for Naumkeg in Stockbridge, Mass., and the Payne Whitney house in New York. Davenport, using White’s designs, produced much of the furniture for the White House renovations done during Theodore Roosevelt’s term, including White’s designs for the State Dining Room, which was doubled in size at that time.
Included was a “long serving table supported by carved eagle pedestals and two matching console tables,” according to Monkman’s book. The purchaser of Northeast’s console table said that its mate is in the State Dining Room, so it may very well be one of those two tables. Davenport also produced furniture for the Oval Office and other rooms. Interestingly, when the buyer was asked how he learned that the table was in this sale, he said that he had seen it when going through the Northeast catalog online, where it was possible to enlarge the photo and see details.
When Bourgeault was asked what his favorite item in the sale was, it didn’t take him long to point to a topographical drawing of Fort William and Mary, circa 1699–1705. It is a remarkable watercolor and ink drawing, done by an anonymous professional, possibly a British officer. The drawing shows the buildings in the fort, part of which still stands, a large British flag, several other buildings and the town of New Castle. Each building is clearly identified, and they are in relative scale to one another. The drawing measures 9½ by 22 inches. Bourgeault knew it was good. With a high estimate of $8,000, he said that it could easily bring much more. He was right; it sold for $50,400 to a New Hampshire dealer who said it will stay in New Hampshire.
Richard Candee, former president of the Portsmouth Historical Society and author of several books and articles on Portsmouth, commented that two larger examples of the same scene exist in London, possibly drawn by the same hand. One is in the British Library and the other is in London’s Public Record office. The Library of Congress also has a lesser copy. In terms of early Portsmouth history, its a very important document.
Fort William and Mary was built in 1632 at the mouth of the Piscataqua River to protect shipping on the river, which was important in providing masts for the British navy and other timber products. The fort was enlarged several times and figures prominently in the region’s Revolutionary War history. Candee pointed out that New Castle was settled before Portsmouth, adding to the importance of this drawing. A round of applause followed the fall of the hammer on this lot.
Several other historical prints, produced in the late Eighteenth–early Nineteenth Centuries, also did well, most exceeding estimates. Bourgeault’s second favorite item was a 1762 hand colored mezzotint “Fill Up The Mighty Bowl,” which went out at $5,040 and a mezzotint of John Wilkes, done in 1768, fetched $1,020. A British satirical print “The Repeal or The Funeral of Miss Ame-Stamp” published in 1766, brought $9,120. A framed Revolutionary War broadside “Fresh Advices,” dated 1777, described the battle of Bemis Heights and included other war news. Published in Exeter, N.H., it achieved $6,600. Three 1802–03 letters written by Christopher Gore, Commissioner to England and later governor of Massachusetts, went for $5,280. They were bought by a member of the board of directors of Gore Place, Gore’s palatial mansion in Waltham, Mass, which is a National Historic Landmark and now open to the public.
The two-day sale started with more than 120 lots of mocha, other creamware and pearlware. The very first lot across the block, a “dipped fan” pattern, mocha, 1-quart mug was the top selling lot of the group, bringing $5,100. The next lot, a circa 1810 jug in the same pattern, went out at $4,500. A milk jug in the same pattern but with a rust-colored field made $4,800. A Staffordshire pearlware enameled figure of a Medici lion, more than 12 inches long, fetched $1,800. Throughout this portion of the sale, several phone bidders competed against buyers in the room and online. There was enough material to go around. Several pieces had descriptive price stickers from the Blums.
There were several lots of early brass candlesticks and other lighting. An 8½-inch pair of Queen Anne brass candlesticks, circa 1750, brought $1,800 from an absentee bidder, and an Eighteenth Century, four-light, Spanish brass chandelier went out at $3,360. Some early American lighting did well, with a primitive wood screw-top -light table candlestand fetching $3,600 and a very unusual pair of three-light tin wall sconces with crimped tin reflectors bringing $5,280, well over estimate. A group of three pierced tin hanging lanterns, mid-Nineteenth Century, made $540.
A circa 1750 Meissen porcelain figure of a red squirrel was the most successful of the several lots of Meissen. It was 8½ inches tall and earned $3,360. Most other lots sold below their estimates, and several were bought by a North Shore dealer in the room. He preferred not to have his name used and said “If you’re patient at an auction, you can always find good buys. The top stuff does well but there’s usually good stuff that gets overlooked.”
Talking about Meissen, after the sale, Bourgeault told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “Meissen peaked in the late 90s. We’ll never see those prices again.” He also said that he was quite pleased with the sale. “Buyers know what they want — it’s a little like the old days. The Revere print brought what it should have and so did most of the furniture. A young couple bought a set of eight maple dining chairs — that was good to see. The $1,400,000 gross was good and not many lots were passed. As always, there were some bargains in furniture and this is a good time to be buying. I was glad to see the historical prints and documents do well, and some of the pieces with ties to the local area will stay in the area.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 603-433-8400 or www.northeastauctions.com.
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