Published: October 1, 2002
By R. Scudder Smith
DOWNINGTOWN, PENN. – When Ron and Debbie Pook were asked if they missed not having their September 21 sale in the firehouse at Ludwig Corner, the answer was a very quick “no” as they basked in the grandeur of their new auction facility at the corner of Routes 30 and 113 in Downingtown.
“This facility was three years in the planning and construction stages, but we finally made it and we are pleased to see so many people out here to help celebrate the opening,” Ron added. A special preview, complete with a dinner that included a raw bar, was on Friday evening and a large gathering enjoyed the spread, a complete tour of the auction gallery and the 500 lots that were to be sold the following day.
“The building is just what we wanted it to be, a place that has room and an orderly flow of both merchandise and people, making it a very friendly place,” Ron said. He noted that after 20 years of complaints, “we finally have enough lights and some of them were added as little a two days before this sale.” Parking is easy, as the gallery lot joins the parking area for the Central Presbyterian Church right next door.
The original building on the site, constructed in 1760, was the first post office for Chester County and also served as administrative offices for many years. For 22 years it was rented by the Pooks, and finally purchased in 1999. At that time plans were set in motion for the auction facility, building on the largest footprint zoning would allow and blending the old with the new to the advantage of both. And that has happened, very successfully.
The old structure now functions as the business core of the operation, with offices on the second floor and all the needs for an auction on the first. The lunchroom is comfortable, pickup is convenient, and paying the bill at the end of the sale runs efficiently. All of this spills smoothly into the auction hall, capable of seating in excess of 250 people, and there is ample room against the outside walls to show case pieces of furniture, tall-case clocks, chairs, etc. An upstairs balcony area is used for the display of rdf_Descriptions in cases, in this instance many examples of spatter, some wood carvings, small pictures and even a Betty lamp that drew lots of interest at the sale.
An elevator runs between floors, as do wide staircases, and the entire basement is set up for storage of rdf_Descriptions for future sales. “Right now were have a very full basement and could put on another sale tomorrow if we wanted to,” Ron said. Much of the September 21 sale came to the gallery during the past three months, and “we are working on three or four major collections that will probably come our way,” he said.
The sale started promptly at 10 am with a selection of 18 rugs, including a Caucasian Lori Pambok example with three central medallions on a rust field with blue border, seven feet, six inches by five feet, five inches, selling for $8,050. Please note that the prices quoted in the copy and with the pictures include the buyers premium of 15 percent on the first $100,000, and 10 percent on everything over $100,000. This sale grossed $2,608,629 with premiums.
A watercolor and ink on paper drawing of Mount Vernon, inscribed “James W. Queen Jan 1, 1820, Mount Vernon the seat of the late Gen. G. Washington,” 16 by 20 inches, had a high estimate of $6,000 and sold for $11,500. A North Shore, Mass., Sheraton lady’s writing desk in mahogany circa 1810, the upper section with three doors and fitted interior, the lower section with three drawers, turned feet, 52 inches high, 40 inches wide, went just over the high estimate, selling for $9,200. With an origin of the Delaware Valley, a Queen Anne lowboy in walnut, circa 1750, cuffed and brush carved Spanish feet, 29½ inches high, brought $18,400, right at the high estimate.
A high estimate of $2,000 was way off for a Philadelphia hollie-point silk on linen theorem dating from the late Eighteenth Century as several bidders chased it to $25,875. It showed a large basket of flowers, flanked by elaborate cutwork circles above a banned bearing the name “Margaret T. Sutter,” 16 by 19½ inches.
“I am not sure where the price end is for spatter,” Ron said, after a good number of pieces in the sale went way over the estimates. The first lot sold, a vibrant blue, red and green rainbow spatter bowl, 103/8 inches in diameter, went for $10,350 against a high estimate of $1,000. The same high estimate was left behind again on the next lot, a red, yellow and green rainbow drape pattern spatter cup and saucer that brought $16,100. Both were listed as coming from the estate of Robert Kahn of Gladwyne, Penn. A rare five-color, red, green, yellow, blue and black rainbow spatter sugar, Nineteenth Century, six inches high, also from the Kahn Collection, went almost four time the high estimate selling for $19,550.
A watercolor and ink on paper of a landscape titled “Pottstown, Penna. From the Northeast,” signed lower center “Drawn by A. Kollner in 1835,” 11½ by 25½ inches, sold for $13,800, and a Lancaster County, Penn., painted miniature blanket chest, circa 1830, turned feet and with the original vibrant red and ochre stippled surface, 12½ inches high and 16 inches wide, opened at $4,000, over the high estimate, and sold for $10,350.
Sixteen lots, starting with 134, were from the office of Victor Johnson of Philadelphia. His wife Joan said, “Victor retired a couple of years ago and we did not have room for all of the things he had in his office, so we decided to sell some of them.” After the sale the couple had praise for the gallery, saying, “We were very pleased with the end results and Ron did well for us.” Joan added that “if there was one weak link it was the [Charles C.] Hofman oil on canvas” (pictured), “Almshouse Property of Berks County,” estimated at $80/100,000. It did not meet the reserve and was passed. As for the cast and painted zinc cigar store Indian maiden, circa 1880 (pictured), Victor noted, “I really liked that figure and it did well at $63,250.” He attributed part of the price to the fact that it had been exhibited in New York at the American Folk Art Museum’s show of shop and cigar store figures. Also consigned by Victor Johnson was a New England copper eagle weathervane with white painted surface, 24 inches high and 41 inches long, that went to a left bid for $10,925.
Halfway through the sale lot 250 was sold, a Dauphin County dower chest that had never been for sale prior to this time and had descended in the family to the present owner. It is dated 1803, has a molded lift lid with two tombstone panels painted on top, and the black and red inscription on the front identifies the original owner as Anna Marie Harman. The front right bracket foot had been eaten away over the years, but this was not even considered a flaw in the piece. The paint decoration was “one of a kind” by an unknown hand.
Jack Lindsay, curator of the American Decorative Arts at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, called the chest “an American vision.” Peter Deen, a restorer of painted furniture from Nottingham, Penn., noted “the piece has never been touched and has no parallel.” “It is a brilliant example of a dower chest, unknown maker, and really the only one of its kind,” David Wheatcroft of Westboro, Mass., said.
Jim Glazer, who happened to be on the floor at the same time giving the chest a closer look, agreed and said, “It certainly fits into the top ten I have ever seen, and possibly the top five.” The next day that team of dealers kept their combined paddle in the air and came away the winner, paying $280,000, including premium. Harry Hartman, dealer from Marietta, Penn., was the underbidder and after the sale commented, “It is a real beauty, unique, I have never seen one like it.” Harry noted that as the bidding started he really did not have a limit, but when it hit a quarter of a million, plus premium, “I felt I had enough.”
Ron Pook said, “When I called the consignor after the sale to let him know what the chest had brought, he thought I was kidding and I had to repeat it three times before he really believed me.” Ron mentioned that this chest really did not have great importance in the family, but was just an old piece that had been handed down.
Two Philadelphia transitional Queen Anne mahogany side chairs were offered, the second (lot 154), dating circa 1760, cabochon carved crest with volute ears over a bold baluster splat, shell carved front rail, supported by shell and volute carved cabriole legs terminating in ball and claw feet, with original surface and seat cover. The high estimate was $9,000, and the room was surprised when bidding carried to piece to $86,250. The lot is pictured with this review.
Among the selection of Indian rdf_Descriptions, an Apache basket olla with zoomorphic animals and North Star decoration, 12 inches high, went for $3,680, while a fine Yakima Indian corn husk bag with green, red, brown, tan and orange geometric designs, 22½ by 16 inches, sold for $1,150.
Four of the six telephones were busy when lot 191, the Gifford Beal oil on canvas, “Summer Day Rockport,” crossed the block. This work, 25 by 313/8 inches, signed lower left, had a high estimate of $15,000 and sold for $43,700. Pook & Pook has an excellent system for phone bids, requiring the member of the staff to remain standing while the client is still in competition for the lot. In this way not only does the auctioneer have a clear picture of who is bidding, but those in the gallery also know how many people are in the running and how long they last. In the case of the Beal, all four fought hard but, as always, there is just one winner.
Lot 215 was of great interest to many, especially David Wheatcroft who paid $19,550 for a carved figure of a parrot with red head, green body, speckled beak and wire legs, resting on a red, yellow and brown base. It measures 8¾ inches high, was carved by Simmons, and was estimated at $8/10,000. Another piece of Pennsylvania paint was a framed mirror, circa 1820, blocked corners with applied red petals and yellow pinstriping, split columns with gilt leafy vines and red and yellow capitals. It was 11 by 9 inches, Kanh Collection, estimated at $2/3,000, and sold for $14,950 to Milly McGehee of Baltimore.
A Berks County Queen Anne tall chest in walnut, circa 1760, fluted quarter columns and straight bracket feet, 63 inches high and 40 inches wide, sold for $25,000, and a Lancaster County wrought iron and brass fat lamp, brass cover inscribed “Fanny M. Ensminger manufactured by John Long 1848,” with an applied wriggle work cockbird, four inches high, brought $28,750 against a high estimate of $5,000. “The price for the Betty lamp sure surprised me,” Ron Pook said after the sale.
Redware held its own, with a New England loaf dish inscribed “Sarah” in yellow script within a looped border, 14½ inches long, selling for $13,000, and a Simon Singer plate inscribed “This dish is made over the pattern of 1810 in Haycock, 1886, for H.H. Youngkim, S.Singer Pa,” 127/8 inches in diameter, $9,200.
Paint again attracted attention when lot 280, a Lancaster County trinket box, circa 1820, attributed to the Geometric Artist, came on the block. It stayed within the presale estimate, selling for $25,875. A final bid of $25,300 won a Pennsylvania Queen Anne walnut tall-case clock, circa 1730, bonnet-top with three finials, eight-day brass works with brass dial and boss inscribed “Joseph Willis – Philadep,” ogee bracket feet, 98 inches high. The bid was right at the high estimate.
A rare Victorian carved rosewood child’s rocking chair, circa 1860, with exceptional rose and leaf carving, original upholstery, 21 inches high, carried a presale estimate of $1/1,500. Milly McGehee said before the sale, “I am going home with that chair,” and she did, after paying $8,050.
A New Hampshire Queen Anne figured maple highboy, circa 1770, in two parts, shell carved center drawer in the lower section, cabriole legs with pad feet, 74½ inches high, 37¾ inches wide, sold for $17,250, just under the high estimate. A Philadelphia Queen Anne side chair, attributed to William Savery, circa 1760, front cabriole legs with crooked feet, sold for $26,450, and a rare mocha covered bowl with applied handles, green incised band, 6¾ inches high, base with a dark brown band with white swag, sold for $11,500.
For those who held out to the end, there seemed to be some good deals including the last lot, an American shaving stand in mahogany, circa 1820, with revolving mirror, five small drawers and turned feet. The estimate was $4/500, and it sold for $316.
“We have one major problem to still work out,” Ron said, referring to the sound system. He mentioned, “Ee really did not have time to check it out completely, as we had to work without rugs, chairs, merchandise and even people in the gallery.” Now that the first sale is over, and one that “we were really pleased with,” the sound system will be fine tuned.
“We want this to be a happy and fun place for auctions,” Ron Pook said, and judging from the first sale, that is the direction it all seems to be going.
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