Review by Madelia Hickman Ring; Photos Courtesy Freeman’s
PHILADELPHIA — Nearly 85 percent of the 171 lots Freeman’s offered in its American furniture, folk and decorative arts sale on November 15 found new homes and the firm achieved an overall total of $689,630. Lynda Cain, head of the department, said there had been some real surprises and she was happy with how the auction performed, noting there had been institutional interest in a few things.
“In the American furniture market, things have to have something special to do well. Strong design, an association with a place or maker or extraordinary rarity. Condition, surface and form are still important. Provenance to a known collection is significant and still matters; buyers find something comforting in knowing an object has been through discerning hands. Being fresh to the market is also important.”
Condition was certainly a factor in the result of the sale’s top lot, a rare, glazed slip and sgrafitto-decorated redware plate that had some restoration. The plate had been made circa 1815 by Solomon Grimm (1787-1847) in Rockland Township, Berks County, Penn., and had provenance to the collections of both Mrs J. Insley Blair and Leah and John Gordon as well as to the New-York Historical Society. Estimated at $15/25,000, it sold to a private collector for $37,800.
A witness of history that featured several exhibitions in its own history was a pre-Civil War-era naval flag from the USS Hartford, which was flown during the Battle of New Orleans (April 1862) and descended in the family of flag officer David G. Farragut. Mounted and framed, the flag featured 13 hand-sewn double-appliqued cotton stars on wool bunting and had been on view at the Metuchen Public Library in New Jersey, the Masonic Center at the New York World Fair in the mid 1960s and at the United States Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Md. A trade buyer ran it up the flagpole from an estimate of $15/25,000 to $32,760.
A private collector paid the same price of $32,760 for “The Bay Trotter John Henry at the U.S. Agricultural Fair, West Philadelphia,” which was dated 1856 and painted by Charles Spencer Humphreys (1818-1880). Exhibition history at the MFA Boston in 1944 and provenance to Emanuel J. Rousuck, the director of Scott & Fowle’s in New York City and Gwynne Garbisch McDevitt were the proverbial icing on the cake of a painting Cain deemed “great.”
Leading the furniture category at $32,760 was a rare labeled painted, bamboo-turned Windsor rocking cradle that had been made by William Seaver and Nathaniel Frost of Boston, 1799-1802. Not only had it also been in the collection of Gwynne Garbisch McDevitt and published in Nancy Goyne Evans’ “Windsor Furniture Making in Boston: A Late but Innovative Center of the Craft,” in Boston Furniture 1700-1800 (2016). According to Cain, institutions were among those competing for it but in the end, a trade buyer prevailed.
An institution — Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Mass. — prevailed to win for $23,940 a portrait of a family attributed to William Williams (English/American, 1727-1791), that had been painted circa 1745 and which had been owned by the Crane family prior to its auction at Parke-Bernet in 1950.
An unidentified institution acquired for $11,340 an Aesthetic Movement silver teapot with Japanese motifs that was attributed to Edward C. Moore of Tiffany & Co, circa 1880.
At least two pencil sketches of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) from life by Benjamin Franklin Bache are known; one is in the institutional collection of the American Philosophical Society, the other remains in the collection of a descendant. A buyer Cain has known for years paid $22,680 for it.
Freeman’s next sale of American furniture, folk and decorative arts will take place in the spring. Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, 215-563-9275 or www.freemansauction.com.