Published: January 29, 2002
Provenance and Patina Work Magic at the $12.6 Million Copeland Sale
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – Provenance and patina worked their magic at the dispersal of the possessions of Mr and Mrs Lammot du Pont Copeland at Sotheby’s on Saturday, January 19. On the day of the sale, Sotheby’s dismantled temporary walls in order to double its seating. Still, there weren’t enough chairs for the 600 people who came to bid, buy or simply be entertained.
When it was over, Sotheby’s had raked in $12.6 million on 362 lots, more than the $12.3 million it realized in 1994 for the collection of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little, but less than the $13.6 cleared when the hammer fell on Christie’s sale of the collection of Mr and Mrs Eddy Nicholson in 1995. How profitable the sale was for Sotheby’s isn’t known. The firm heavily promoted the auction and guaranteed the consignor a minimum price on all but 17 lots of the assortment, which narrowly surpassed its high pre-sale estimate of $12 million.
Lammot du Pont Copeland (1905-1983) and Pamela Cunningham Copeland (1906-2001) began collecting after their marriage in 1930. Their Georgian-style home, built on a parcel of land not far from Winterthur, the home of Mr Copeland’s cousin Henry F. du Pont, was completed in 1937.
Influenced by their cousin, the young couple began buying from many of the same dealers who supplied Henry du Pont, chief among them Joe Kindig, Jr., in the 1930s and 1940s; John Walton in the 1950s; and Israel Sack, Inc., in the 1960s. The excellent, hardcover catalogue prepared by Sotheby’s provides a detailed record of these purchases, as well as thoughtful essays by Pamela Copeland and Wendell Garrett.
With their home substantially furnished, the Copelands, also like Henry du Pont, began developing their gardens. “After the war we engaged Marian Cruger Coffin (1876-1957), the well-known landscape gardener, to design the only formal garden on the estate,” Pamela Copeland wrote in The Magazine Antiques in 1987. To rock and vegetable gardens, the Copelands added a wildflower garden and a meadow garden. Mrs Copeland’s greatest love was in plants of the Piedmont Region, and it was in these native specimens that she decided to specialize.
Mr Copeland made his career at the Du Pont Company, where he served first as president and then as chairman between 1962 and 1971. Mrs Copeland was dedicated to a variety of philanthropic causes, among them Gunston Hall Plantation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Winterthur Museum, Gardens, and Library.
“She was known not only for her intelligence and integrity but for her fierce determination on behalf of projects that held her loyalty,” wrote Sotheby’s senior vice president Wendell Garrett. After the death of her husband, in the last two decades of her life, she generously opened her home to other enthusiasts of antiques and gardens, who came away deeply impressed by the perfection of what they saw.
In the end, it was her gardens that meant the most to her. She left her exquisite collection of Chinese Export porcelain figures to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. She dedicated her home and its grounds as the Mount Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora.
“The important thing is that the grounds, almost one thousand acres, will be preserved,” said her son Garrett Copeland, who watched from a choice seat in the front of the salesroom as his childhood memories crossed the block. All proceeds from the auction have all been earmarked for the Mount Cuba Center.
In all, the sale generated 800 absentee bids and drew the participation of 150 phone bidders, who were assisted by 25 Sotheby’s staffers who manned the phones. A total of 24 lots sold for more than $100,000, an indication of the powerful appeal of this early collection, the strength of the market, and, perhaps most significantly, the dwindling supply of first-rate inventory. “The market affirmed what we believed from the outset – that the Copeland Collection is the greatest collection of American antiques to ever come up for auction,” specialist John B.A. Nye said afterwards.
A Philadelphia desk-and-bookcase of circa 1750 took top honors. Equally notable for its majestic pediment with its boldly carved cartouche as for its elaborate interior, rhythmically punctuated by block-fronted and shell-carved drawers and pigeonhole valances, the casepiece sold on the phone to Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee for $1,105,750 ($400/600,000).
Another virtuoso example of Philadelphia cabinetmaking was a Chippendale chest-on-chest whose carving is attributed to the London trained craftsmen Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez. Underbid by Leigh Keno, the piece sold on the phone to Quakertown, Penn., conservator Alan Miller for $913,250 ($800/1,200,000).
Todd Prickett of Yardley, Penn., and Seth Thayer of Northport, Me., underbid Downington, Penn., dealer Philip H. Bradley on a Philadelphia walnut easy chair, sold for $583,250 ($250/350,000). Print dealer Graham Arader of New York was the surprise buyer, at $313,750, of a Philadelphia Chippendale high chest of drawers.
A Philadelphia Chippendale easy chair with a repair to its front leg sold in the room for $236,750, under low estimate. Baltimore, Md., dealer Milly McGehee defeated a persistent phone bidder to win a Philadelphia Queen Anne carved walnut compass-seat side chair for $225,750. And a Philadelphia mahogany dressing table of circa 1765, purchased from Joe Kindig, Jr., in 1935, sold in the room for $266,500.
Surmounted by a portrait bust of John Locke, the Potts family Chippendale scroll-top desk-and-bookcase scraped by at $145,500, well below its $500/800,000 estimate. A third marble-top table, this one a cross-braced Philadelphia example of circa 1780, achieved $178,500, while an upholstered armchair attributed to the shop of Adam Haines, circa 1790, left the room at $112,500.
Rhode Island Furniture
The Copelands’ taste was clearly for highstyle furniture, preferably from Philadelphia. Still, one of their most beautiful acquisitions was a simple Pembroke table made of rich, warm mahogany, most likely by John Townsend of Newport. The table sold to Virginia-based consultant Luke Beckerdite for $632,750. The other notable piece of Rhode Island furniture was a strikingly sculptural open armchair of circa 1765. It went to Leigh Keno for $302,750 ($250/350,000).
There was nothing easy about easy chairs, which consistently drew high bids at the Americana Week sales. In the Copeland auction, a Boston Queen Anne example of circa 1740 went to a private collector bidding by phone for $335,750. Princeton, N.J., dealer Leo Arons secured a Boston Queen Anne easy chair for $46,000 and a Boston Queen Anne dressing table for $103,700.
Philip Bradley took a marble-top Boston pier table of circa 1740-60 with a bid of $302,750, picking up a George II slab table for another $51,750. Another Boston Queen Anne marble-top center table went to Leigh Keno, for $192,750.
Country Furniture and Folk Art
New England country furniture was scarce in the Copeland collection. One rdf_Description of note, however, was a Connecticut River Valley maple slant-lid desk. With its blocked front, shell-carved drawer and carved pendant, it was a stylish rdf_Description. Exposed dovetails on the case’s top suggest the possibility that it was once half of a desk-and-bookcase. The price, which came in well below estimate at $204,750, seemed to confirm that suspicion.
More successful was a Pennsylvania country rdf_Description, a miniature chest-on-frame standing only 34 inches tall, with the inlaid initials of its owner, Catherine Graff of Lancaster, Penn. The chest sold to a phone bidder for $335,750.
Pat Bell of Olde Hope Antiques in New Hope, Penn., acquired one of only a few piece of painted furniture in the sale, a decorated blanket chest inscribed Peter Lang and dated 1786, for $255,500. The colorful work is from southern Lehigh or northern Bucks County, Penn. A miniature chest by the same maker sold to an anonymous bidder for $159,750 at Sotheby’s auction of the collection of Sandy and Julie Palley on January 18.
Standing 6 ¾ inches tall, a carved flower-filled vase attributed to Wilhelm Schimmel sold to a phone bidder underbid by Massachusetts dealer David Wheatcroft for $29,900.
The Copelands loved living with their antiques, and the fact that some of their Chinese Export dinner wares were chipped or cracked didn’t seem to bother buyers. Ninety-eight pieces in a delicately swagged pattern with pink floral sprays, circa 1775, fetched $54,625; 78 pieces more garnered another $37,375. To the phone for $17,250 went a Chinese Export punch bowl with sepia panels thought to depict Horace Walpole’s home, Strawberry Hill.
Pamela Copeland is said to have dined by scores of flickering candles every night, and there were dozens of candlesticks – in silver, porcelain and glass – to boost this claim. A set of four William III silver candlesticks by John Laughton of London, 1669 and 1700, were hammered down at $68,500; a pair of George I silver candlesticks by Thomas Merry of London, 1715, went for $51,750; and an absentee bidder made off with a William and Mary snuffers and stand of circa 1690 for $34,500. Six Staffordshire enameled candlesticks of circa 1775 garnered $11,500 from an absentee bidder.
Even reproduction lighting was hot. A pair of brass and tole-peint wall sconces made up from Nineteenth and Twentieth Century elements achieved a stunning $13,800. Even more remarkable were two iron and brass candlestands, possibly made by Jabez Hatch, West Newbury, Mass., in the mid-Eighteenth Century. The first sold to a private collector bidding in the room for $74,000; the second went to New York dealer Leigh Keno for $85,000.
In what may have been a record for a papier-mache objet d’art, a pair of 19 1/2 inch tall figures of a gentleman and a lady soared to $30,000, selling in the room to a private collector. Other accessories included a pair of George III giltwood wall brackets with eagle bases, sold to another collector for $34,500.
Piquing the fancy of London dealers in town for the Winter Antiques Show was an Eighteenth Century George III red lacquered and ormolu mounted bracket clock by Robert Higgs. The timepiece sold in the room for $159,750.
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