Published: July 21, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Pook & Pook Inc.
DOWNINGTOWN, PENN. – What an auction for old paint and carvings. The 689-lot single-owner auction of Linda and Dennis Moyer’s collection sold white glove at Pook & Pook Inc., on July 10-11, producing a total sale gross of $1,382,478. The top lot quadrupled estimate, the second highest doubled, the third went 17-times estimate, the fourth sold 18-times estimate and the fifth best brought 54-times estimate. The results handily beat the presale $477,500/789,900 range.
To tell it plain: prices were strong.
Auctioneer Jamie Shearer said, “I don’t know that there were too many bargains, there were some but not many. It brought back the feeling of days gone by, a whole lot of competition and people beating each other up. People said ‘when am I going to find another one?’ When you can say that, all bets are off.”
Linda and Dennis Moyer of Zionsville, Penn., were chroniclers of Pennsylvania German material. Dennis began collecting when he was 8 years old with the next six decades spent on a perpetual hunt among auctions, dealers and the old-time families — his neighbors — of the Lehigh Valley. They were fully immersed in the material of their locale and the community around it, actively engaged in the historical organizations that aligned with their interests.
Shearer said that much of what the Moyers bought was found within a 50-mile radius of their home. “The collection wasn’t really limited to one thing, the only limitation was that it had to be local to him. It didn’t matter if it was wood, tin, iron or stoneware, it just had to be local. Dennis was buying before the internet, many were pieces bought out of a house or local auctions,” he said. “There was good research information on many lots and records of it coming from such and such a family. Even if it came out of a house, it had a detailed description of who made it or owned it and the what, when, where.”
Bidders showed up through their preferred bidding channels. Gallery bidders numbered to 132, Bidsquare had 916 registered, Invaluable provided 755, while 104 bidders vied for their lots through the phone and absentee.
Dennis Moyer focused his professional attention on Pennsylvania German material when he became director of the Schwenkfelder Library and Museum in 1983, remaining in that post for 19 years. In 1998, Dennis penned Fraktur Writings and Folk Art Drawings of the Schwenkfelder Library Collection, focusing on his favorite and notable works within those holdings. It was published as part of a series from the Pennsylvania German Society.
Moyer checked every box as a champion for historic Pennsylvania German material. He was an author, a volunteer, a director, a dealer and a collector – what other means exist to promote the stuff?
Leading the sale at $137,000 was a painted pine slide lid box by John Drissel (Pennsylvania, 1762-1846). It set a record for a Drissel box and sold to a Pennsylvania private collector. The box was inscribed to its lid “Zum gruck Ann von Red John Drissel his hand 1796,” in original decorated surface with flowers and ivory wavy bands on a salmon ground. It measures 2¾ inches high by 4-3/8 wide by 7-5/8 deep. Anna Von Red, or Anna Roth, is listed in the New Goschenhoppen Register as born November 17, 1793, meaning this box was made for her in the third or fourth year of her life.
The box was known, having made an appearance at a Winterthur workshop in 2008. Lisa Minardi, the executive director at Historic Trappe and a consultant on cataloging the fraktur in this sale, was at that workshop and said it was one of the first times she met Dennis and the diminutive slide box, which was even then a star among the 24 examples they had brought together to study. A total of 26 Drissel works are known, 14 of which are in museums and only 10 of which are signed by the artist. That this one is signed, dated and in remarkable condition is what makes it among the best known from the maker. The catalog noted that the Moyers had purchased it at an auction in Lower Milford Township. Auctioneer Jamie Shearer said there were three interested parties bidding on it above $80,000, contributing to its successful run over the $30,000 high estimate. Minardi said that Historic Trappe’s Center for Pennsylvania German Studies maintains a list of all known works by Drissel and is planning a future exhibition on painted boxes that will include examples of Drissel’s work.
Eight carved and fancifully painted birds perched on a singular tree by Berks County carver Schtockschnitzler Simmons (Pennsylvania, active 1885-1910) sold for $103,700 on a $40,000 estimate, setting a new auction record for the artist. The tree measured 20½ inches high and sold to a collector local to the auction house. Moyer purchased it privately in the 1960s from the family of Amos Kline, where it had descended.
Shearer said, “It had great size and a good number of birds. On some of his work, Simmons spent a little more time on the painting or a little more time on the carving, and I’m not saying this because it brought the most money, but it was the nicest one that I’ve ever seen.”
Book references could be found throughout the catalog.
That bird tree and 15 other pieces in the sale were illustrated in Richard Machmer’s 1991 Just for Nice: Carving and Whittling Magic of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Also included there was the sale’s third highest lot and its most comedic: a wide-eyed carved and painted cat with a small carved rabbit clenched from its mouth that blew past the $1,500 high estimate to sell for $26,840. It sold to a dealer bidding on behalf of a collector, and Shearer said he was not surprised by the result. The catalog noted that the 11½-inch carving had been exhibited at the Historical Society of Berks County in 1991. Moyer had purchased it from David and Barbara Mest in 1968.
A layer of old blue paint could be seen under the worn white surface of an Eighteenth Century tavern table measuring 36Ã½ inches across the top. Dealers Kelly Kinzle and John Chaski placed the winning bid for $21,960 on a $1,200 high estimate. That was still less than they thought they would have to pay, Kinzle said. He said it was a very early table and they were pleased to get it. At the same price, and a true surprise to many, was a lot of ten small fabric birds including some that were probably Amish made. With a $400 high estimate, the group sold to a Midwestern collector.
Other leaders in furniture included the very first piece that Moyer had purchased for his collection, a Berks County painted cherry and walnut folk art dresser from the Nineteenth Century, which sold for $7,320. Decorations on it included carved hearts and pinwheel motifs. Moyer featured it in his 1996 book The Colors of the Goshenhoppen. The two following lots were featured on the cover of the same book. A Pennsylvania poplar apothecary cupboard from the Nineteenth Century in a period green surface brought $11,590. Moyer had picked it up from the Forgedale Store of Washington Township in Berks County. Behind was a striking Pennsylvania painted poplar dower chest dated 1835 with outlined full panel width inscription to Christia Schultz. Shearer called it a strange bird, saying its decoration and design were very uncommon. “It was very simple,” Shearer said. “It had good contrasting colors with the red, yellow and the black feet – some of the key colors people like today. It also had a great scalloped apron. It was just an unusual thing.” The Moyers had purchased it from descendants of Schultz and it came with a genealogy record compiled by Linda Moyer. It sold for $10,980.
Two related lots from the Nineteenth Century Montgomery County Krauss family of clock and organ builders sold in the sale. A Pennsylvania Sheraton cherry tall case clock with a 30-hour movement brought $10,980. It was signed “Samuel Krauss Montgomery County.” The lot directly preceding it was the maker’s fraktur birth certificate from 1807. The ink and watercolor work measured 5 by 7½ inches and sold for $2,982. Shearer said that its incredibly rare to see two related lots from one maker in a sale, relating that it almost never happens. Moyer had acquired them separately and years apart, and no doubt frowned from above when they were quite unfortunately bought by two separate buyers, ending the scholarly romance that he likely took great pride in.
Fraktur was a significant area of interest to Dennis Moyer. Lisa Minardi related, “The fraktur was quite impressive, he had a huge range from different artists. Even though he collected very locally, he lived near the intersection of four different counties, so there was a lot of breadth to the material.” She noted a Northampton County ink and watercolor birth certificate for Elisaveth Leibenguth, which was the top fraktur work from the collection when it sold for $18,300. It featured a good 15Ã¾-by-13-inch size as well as a “Man in the Moon” design at top center, something Minardi had never seen before. The fraktur had been pictured in Frederick Sheely Weiser’s 1973 book Fraktur: Pennsylvania German Folk Art and was purchased from Slatedale Antiques in the 1960s. Also pictured in that book was the preceding lot, a Northampton County ink and watercolor fraktur for Johann Henrich Rausch, dated 1781, that sold for $3,904.
Weiser’s book is considered one of the earlier titles on fraktur, and that two of Moyer’s pieces were in it lends to the fact that he was among the early wave of collectors in the category. “He got started very early,” Minardi said. “There was an interest back then, but he was ahead of the curve.”
Sometime in the 1970s, Moyer purchased a Schwenkfelder ink and watercolor fraktur attributed to the Exotic Scenery Artist (Pennsylvania, active 1817-1830) out of a house sale in Quakertown. It featured a silktail bird with the inscription “Ephram Bollinger” written verso and sold for $14,640. Minardi had written about a nearly identical example with the same inscription from the Joan Johnson collection in her 2015 book, Drawn With Spirit. Another Schwenkfelder fraktur, this one a reward of merit by David Kriebel (Pennsylvania, active 1787-1848), sold for $13,420 on a $2,000 estimate. It featured a tulip tree and two birds for Cristina Schultz, dated 1802.
Taking $12,200 was a Bucks County ink and watercolor fraktur birth certificate by Bernhard Misson (Pennsylvania, active 1808-1824) that Minardi called the artist’s masterwork – the very best from Misson that she had ever seen. The work was made for Hanna Luis, born 1808, and decorated with flanking columns with rising tulips surmounted by two angels.
Rising to $17,080 on a $2,000 estimate was a lot of 12 dyed and pin-carved chicken eggs from Pennsylvania, perhaps placing the group among the highest price ever paid for a dozen chicken eggs. Many were dated and initialed with various designs, including a house, potted flowers and plants, birds, a heart and more. One example marked “1887 CKJ” was made for Christianna Krauss Jacob and another inscribed “HKJ 1877” was made for Hannah Krauss Jacob. Moyer had purchased them at an onsite auction for Schwenkfelder family Paul and Arlene Bieler in 1998.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of them, but we’ve had them individually,” Shearer said. “It was nice to keep them together as a collection. I’m not shocked by the result. The fragility of them – it was enough moving them from the home to the auction house, but just imagine since 1850 how many times they’ve moved. How did any of them survive? It lends itself to the rarity.” The eggs were purchased by a collector local to the auction house.
A number of bidders saw something desirable in a lot of three historical blue Staffordshire plates, which brought $18,300 on a $500 estimate. The designs included a “Winter View of Pittsfield Massachusetts,” and “Peace and Plenty.”
Other highlights included a Pennsylvania painted walnut watch hutch from the Nineteenth Century that brought $11,590. The hutch measured 12 inches high and featured floral decoration on a yellow ground. It had been purchased at a Limeport, Penn., auction in the 1970s. Rising to $10,370 was a smoke decorated painted pine hanging corner cabinet from the Nineteenth Century.
Apart from the Drissel, there were a smattering of other fine painted tabletop boxes in the sale. Among them was a painted pine slide lid box from the Nineteenth Century that brought $7,320 on a $400 estimate. It was a nice small size, only 2 inches high by 6¼ inches long by 3½ wide, and bidders did not seem to care much that the paint was worn on the tulip and wavy vine decoration. It was bought by the trade, underbid by the trade. From the Compass Artist came a painted poplar dresser box, 4 inches high by 5-1/8 inches wide, with pinwheel decorations that took $4,636. Moyer had purchased it out of a house sale in Kempton, Penn., in the 1960s. A vividly painted Berks County painted pine Bucher Box, 2¾ inches high by 9½ inches wide by 8½ inches deep, inscribed “A Bosert” to center amid images of flowers to the lid, sold for $3,904.
Shearer said that the results are indicative of Moyer’s attention to detail. “When you set a record on two Pennsylvania German works, you’ve got a really wonderful collection. Dennis had a great eye and if it was local, he was interested – he would step up and buy. The prices reflected his good eye for quality and condition.”
All prices include buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Pook & Pook Inc.’s next auction is Firearms, Militaria & Ephemera on July 30. For additional information, 610-269-4040 or www.pookandpook.com.
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