Published: March 15, 2011
Like a man in love, Brock Jobe was wildly smitten with a cache of previously unknown Portsmouth furniture offered in Skinner’s March 6 Americana sale. “I can’t remember when a more impressive group of Portsmouth furniture has come to market,” he said of the pieces sold.
The furniture was the subject of his talk “New Discoveries in Portsmouth Furniture” in the Skinner gallery March 3. Of a Federal mahogany serpentine front chest of drawers that had bookmatched flame birch veneer and high French feet, he said it was so rare that it was “practically unheard of.”
Bidders agreed, and it brought $314,000 from dealer William Samaha bidding in the gallery against the phones. Samaha withdrew at $260,000, but then jumped back in at $270,000 to win the piece. The chest descended through the Simes family of Portsmouth and came most recently from a home on Casco Bay, Maine. The proceeds of the chest and other rarities from the same collection, a total of $428,107, will go to charity.
A Portsmouth Queen Anne walnut high chest of drawers attributed to Joseph Davis was previously unknown to the museum community and stopped Jobe in his tracks. “What a piece of furniture!” he said, explaining that Davis pieces often had heavy cases on startling slender legs, which on this piece had been shortened, and massive cornices, such as the one here.
Of the unusual carved shell, Jobe said he would be happy to take home just the shell, but three days later the piece was still intact. He added that the piece “has a lot of secrets to share.” The high chest, with stop-fluted pilasters distinctive of Davis work, brought $59,250 on the phone. It was owned originally by British colonial governor John Wentworth, who fled the city for Nova Scotia when war began. The chest and other Wentworth goods were confiscated by the city of Portsmouth and sold at auction in 1776 to a Simes family member.
A Portsmouth Queen Anne walnut high chest of drawers had been separated in the Nineteenth Century, but remained in the same Boston area home, with the top given a bracket base and used in the kitchen and the bottom doing duty as a server in the dining room. It brought $24,885 from the same bidder on the phone. Jobe had taken the piece apart before his talk and discovered an odd extension to the back of a drawer that he thought was added around 1840‱850. Further study of the piece also should reveal much more about it.
A pair of Federal mahogany card tables with bird’s-eye maple inlay from the Simes family was described in the catalog as “probably Portsmouth.” The pair sold online for $16,590.
New Hampshire was the magic locus for many objects. A late Eighteenth Century southern New Hampshire Queen Anne maple high chest of drawers with fan carving was owned originally by Elizabeth and Moses Flanders, who lived in or near Hampton, N.H. It descended in the family until it was purchased by the consignor from the Dean collection of Council Bluffs, Iowa. A phone bidder took it for $14,220.
Bidders were confident that a carved cherry case clock was made by Edward Moulton of Rochester, N.H., and Saco, Maine, and drove it to $10,665.
A Massachusetts pine and maple chest-on-frame, circa 1700, by Edmund Titcomb of Newbury had fashionable and fanciful but carefully wrought S-scrolled legs and base and sold to William Samaha, who beat out serious phone competition at $213,000.
The chest, which drew significant institutional presale interest, retained the painted signature of the maker. It has been in the collection of the Winslow House in Marshfield, Mass., and retained an accession label from the Museum of Fine Arts, where it was on view between 1929 and 1935. Speaking after the sale, Steve Fletcher, head of Skinner’s Americana department, said he thought he remembered his friend, the late dealer Arthur Beane, having been involved in the placement of the piece in Marshfield in the late 1920s. Proceeds will benefit maintenance and conservation of the Winslow House collection, and the chest will be well cared for in its new home.
A dainty Federal figural maple and pine worktable decorated prettily by Sarah Eaton Balch of Dedham, Mass., at Mrs Rowson’s School in Boston, circa 1798‱810, sold online for $16,590. The table was painted with a landscape with figures, a mill and trees within an oval reserve and was published in Little by Little: Six Decades of Collecting Americana by Nina Fletcher Little and in American Painted Furniture 1660‱880 by Dean A. Fales Jr. A note of provenance was inscribed on the drawer.
An early Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania pine dower chest painted with an abstract design had once been a vibrant salmon and blue, which has faded to a soft cream color. It realized $10,665. Fletcher said he had found the piece in a Truro, Mass., home and had hauled it to Boston himself
The phones prevailed on a sophisticated Massachusetts dwarf clock with French feet by Joshua Wilder of Hingham with a mahogany and mahogany veneer case attributed to Abiel White of Weymouth that brought $189,600. The clock, which came from one collection and is headed to another, is pictured in Harbor and Home, Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts by Jobe et al.
A group of 26 miniature birds carved by A. Elmer Crowell came from the same collection as the clock. They belonged originally to a friend of Crowell. Of these, a blue-winged teal drake was $4,444, a miniature redhead drake fetched $3,200, and a running red-breasted merganser drake brought $2,844. The collection was broken up among a handful of phone bidders.
A lot of five factory-made duck decoys from another collection and comprising two pair of mallard drake and hen decoys and a Mason “Premier Grade” black duck realized $6,518 against the estimated $600/800.
New Bedford artist William Bradford’s 1853 “The Whaleship Speedwell of Fairhaven Outward Bound off Gay Head,” which auctioneer Steve Fletcher described as “perhaps one of Bradford’s best,” brought $248,000 from a phone bidder. The painting was accompanied by the ship’s daybook from its last voyage between September 1, 1857, and February 5, 1861, kept by its master, Benjamin J. Gibbs. The painting, which descended in the Gibbs family, has been exhibited at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
The same buyer paid $10,073 for an album of seven exquisitely rendered gouache on pith paper images by Sunqua of floral arrangements in woven baskets. The album, dated 1835, stirred the phones to a frenzy. Also by Sunqua, a watercolor on ivory portrait miniature of George Washington Heard Jr of Ipswich, Mass., in the original Chinese carved frame, went to the same buyer for $8,888. Heard had lived and worked in Canton.
A brass whaling gun by Eben Pierce of New Bedford, circa 1880, was a breech-loading device with a skeletal stock and realized $10,073.
“Portrait of George Morillo Bartol, Aged 6 Years 7 Months,” an 1827 pastel on paper by Susanna Paine, was inscribed and dated on the back and sold for $38,513. As an adult, Bartol was the minister of the First Church of Christ Unitarian in Lancaster, Mass., a Bulfinch building now undergoing restoration and whose fundraising campaign is under way and advertised in the catalog.
Realizing $15,405 was an unsigned portrait of a baby boy with a rattle, a riding crop and a ball and wearing red shoes by Joseph Whiting Stock. It had been hung in a gilt gesso frame.
An early Nineteenth Century Maine or New Hampshire fireboard painted with a large neoclassical-style urn filled with red roses centered between trees and decorated with gold griffins and swags sold for $41,475. It had sold previously at Christie’s in 1989.
An unsigned pair of portraits of Elisha Wales with a New England church bass viol and his wife Lucy Bates Wales holding a book brought $10,655. The pair had descended in the family of the sitter until it was consigned to Skinner in 1997. This time out it came from the same collection as the fireboard.
Dealer Philip Bradley won an Eighteenth Century Pennsylvania tiger maple and walnut spice box with exuberant compass and vine and berry inlay of walnut, red cedar, locust and holly for $106,500. The box had ten interior tiger maple drawers around a central walnut drawer.
A Nineteenth Century detailed working model of the “squirrel tail” pumper “Red Jacket” that could shoot a stream of water 48 feet shot to $53,325 from a phone bidder, who also paid $1,422 for a circa 1895 chromolithograph of the original Red Jacket, which was once owned by the Red Jacket Veteran Firemen’s Association of Cambridge, Mass. Both lots came from the collection of the late Colonel Rockwell Campbell Tenney, a prodigious gatherer of what his daughter described in catalog notes as “civil service memorabilia.” She was present for the sale.
A leather fire bucket made by John Fenno of Boston around 1812 and owned by David Stoddard Greenough Jr was decorated with an erupting volcano, possibly an allusion to the 1812 volcanic eruptions on St Vincent Island and at Awu in the Sangihe Islands. The bucket made $10,073 on the phone. A Charlestown, Mass., example dated 1820 and owned by Marshall Johnson of the Ancient Fire Society sold for $7,110, also on the phone.
Estimated at $300/500, a collection of bookplates spanning the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Centuries zoomed to $10,073 from an online bidder. Most examples were engraved with a coat of arms, two for George Washington and one for Isaiah Thomas, printer, publisher and patriot who established the American Antiquarian Society, and were said to have been engraved by Paul Revere. The group came from the estate of Providence, R.I., dealer Nino Scotti.
Historic silver included a colonial silver tankard, circa 1760, by Boston silversmith and engraver Nathaniel Hurd that went to Jonathan Trace for $19,553. The tankard was accompanied by a 1928 description of its provenance by dealer Katrina Kipper of Accord, Mass. Hurd, the son of silversmith Jacob Hurd, was the subject of two portraits by John Singleton Copley.
Weathervanes of note included a Rochester, N.H., cast iron full-bodied example in yellow paint that brought $11,850 and a gilt copper peacock example with a sheet copper crest and tail that was $11,258.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3000.
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