Published: February 11, 2003
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY — Rose Anna and John Kolar grew up in rural Ohio attending auctions and farm sales with their parents. As adults, they furnished their home with the arts and crafts of early Pennsylvania. They assiduously sought out painted blanket chests and fraktur, redware and Windsor chairs, decorative iron and colorful quilts with local histories. Their sources included some of the field’s best-known dealers of Pennsylvania German folk art.
When the Kolars decided to sell, they chose Christie’s, whose track record in the area of Pennsylvania German folk art includes the highly successful Scott, Smith and Flack auctions.
Taking place on Friday, January 17, as part of the broader program of Americana Week sales, Pennsylvania German Folk Art from the Collection of Rose Anna and John Kolar garnered $856,696 including premium. Of the 283 lots offered, 188, or 66 percent, sold. With so many shows and sales competing for buyers’ attentions, the auction was only moderately well attended and many bids went to left or phone bids.
The afternoon event at Rockefeller Plaza opened with a watercolor and ink on paper presentation drawing, ex-collection of Bill Holland, that combined the classic motifs of a parrot, tulip and heart. Dated 1816, the work went to an absentee bidder for $6,573.
An hour and a half later, a heated volley ensued between two phone bidders for the day’s top lot. When bidding was over, a cutwork birth and baptismal record attributed to Wilhemus Antonius Faber of Bucks County, Penn., had sold for an astounding $53,775, nearly ten times its presale estimate. “There would have been no logical reason to appraise it for that much, though I suppose its size is distinctive,” said one amazed expert. The certificate for Johannes Epler is dated March 21, 1782.
A birth and baptismal record formerly from the Austin and Jill Fine Collection went to New York dealer Sidney Gecker, who had owned it before, for $7,170. It is dated 1816 and inscribed to Johonnus Heller of Columbia County, Penn.
A phone bidder claimed a birth and baptismal certificate for Elizabeth and Catarina Telles of Bucks County, 1818 and 1821, for $9,560 ($8/12,000). A watercolor and ink on paper bookplate drawing for Barbara Geller, Bern Township, Lancaster County, sold in the room for $5,378.
Several outstanding examples of Pennsylvania painted furniture were of interest to collectors. A blue and brown sponge painted dower chest on turned legs and button feet went to a seated bidder for $45,410 ($20/30,000.)
For its cover lot, Christie’s chose a York County blanket chest, late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century, with mellow red and blue pinwheel decorations on a yellow ground. It sold for $41,825 ($18/24,000.) A Lancaster blanket chest dated 1787 and decorated by Johannes Ranck with tulips and flower pots went to an absentee bidder underbid by Sidney Gecker for $21,510 ($15/25,000).
Though not painted, two other distinctive Pennsylvania pieces also did well. A Lebanon County walnut step back cupboard with good color and pleasing proportions fetched $22,705 from a gentleman seated in the back of the room. A bid of $23,900 took a Chester County Queen Anne walnut chest on frame with a whale’s tail skirt and cabriole legs ending in trifid feet.
Two shapely Pennsylvania Queen Anne walnut side chairs with yoke crests, vasiform splats and trifid feet left the room at $4,183 and $4,541. The best-selling Windsor was a sack back armchair retailed by G.W. Samaha of Ohio. The grain painted chair sold to the phone for $11,950 ($8/12,000).
“I’ve liked it ever since Barry Cohen owned it,” Sidney Gecker said of a circa 1775-1800 loaf dish auctioned for $26,290 ($3/5,000). The 111/2- by 71/2-inch plate has yellow quill accented with green daubs. Other redware sales included a Nineteenth Century slip decorated plate inscribed “Ehli,” $4,541, and an eight-inch plate with a coggle wheel rim and slip decoration of a tulip, $2,151, both of which sold to Gecker.
A young couple purchased a six-inch plate with vivid yellow and green squiggle decoration for $3,824. A private buyer in the room got a plate ornamented with a flower pot. Attributed to Conrad Mumbourer of Bucks County, it was $3,107.
A group of five miniature ovoid jugs of about 1820-50 sold over estimate for $2,032. A second lot of four miniature jugs estimated at $1/1,500 was passed. Two groups of five miniature pitchers achieved $1,076 per lot.
Among the few textiles offered was a Mennonite sampler signed “E.W.” and dated 1834. It left the room at $10,755.
Weathervanes were also well received. A primitive sheet iron vane in the form of a Civil War soldier, 471/4 inches long, tripled low estimate to bring $15,535. Factory vanes included a full-bodied stag, 29 inches long, $14,340; a cow, 381/4 inches long, $11,950; and a running horse, 44 inches long, $10,775. A modeled copper leaping fox, 261/2 inches long, went out at $14,340.
Game boards were also winners. The most expensive one boldly juxtaposed pinwheels with Mondrianlike grids of color. It sold for $41,825. Another graphically strong piece, a double-sided checkers/backgammon board with star decoration, inscribed “To/F.A.P./From/S.W.P.” made $7,768 ($3/5,000).
Miscellaneous sales included a butter print, chip carved with three fish and dating to the Nineteenth Century, that brought $1,912 ($3/500); and a wrought iron thumb latch in the form of an Indian wearing a feathered headdress, $1,673 ($8/1,200).
Fittingly, the Kolar auction closed with a blue, cream, and brown painted door. From Pennsylvania and dating to the early Nineteenth Century, it sold for $717.
“One of the great things about collecting Americana is peering through the window of America’s past,” wrote the Kolars, who clearly enjoyed living with the past as well.
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