Published: May 8, 2012
Freeman’s marathon day of auctions on April 30 †American furniture, silver, folk and decorative arts followed by the Historic USS Constitution Colors from the collection of H. Richard Dietrich Jr †was a resounding success, realizing a combined total of $2.5 million. Provenance, uniqueness and overall high-quality generated excitement and interest from new and veteran collectors as well as institutions at home and abroad. The 11 flags and cannonball from the USS Constitution realized $784,500, were 100 percent sold and established 12 auction records.
Freeman’s chairman, Samuel M. “Beau” Freeman II commenting on the sale, “In my 50 years here at Freeman’s, this is one of the †if not the †most historic sale Freeman’s has ever hosted. We are proud that the American public recognized the historic significance of these flags from ‘Old Ironsides’ and stepped forward to protect our nation’s treasures into the future.”
Highlights of the collection traveled to invitation-only events in Annapolis and Newport earlier in April. They came home to Freeman’s for the public exhibition which opened with a champagne reception attended by the Dietrich family. After a week-long exhibition, the auction started at 6 pm to a full room of seated and phone bidders.
The auction kicked off with the English red ensign, which achieved $43,750, and the rare imperial Brazilian ensign that fetched $50,000. The French Republic commissioning pennant that later achieved $18,750 was eclipsed by lot No. 4, the 3-pound projectile “cannonball” removed from ‘Old Ironsides’ hull, which rocketed passed its estimate of $300/500 to its final price of $22,500.
“Interesting to know that an English cannonball does better than a French flag,” said auctioneer and vice chairman Alasdair Nichol light-heartedly from the rostrum. An equally competitive situation arose for a US Commodore’s broad pennant estimated at $4/6,000 that sailed up to its final price of $32,500.
H. Richard Dietrich, III, said, “We were pleased with the auction. It was a very special collection of naval flags. It has been an honor as a family to have had these flags over so many years, and we are excited that they have found new stewards to enjoy and care for them. Working with Freeman’s throughout this whole effort has been a pleasure. Freeman’s did a great job showcasing the inspiring story of the flags, their hard work was evident at every stage.”
The top two lots achieved $158,500 each. The first was a rare 31-star United States ensign of the USS Constitution (1851‱858) and is most likely her last ensign prior to the ship being laid up in ordinary at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in 1855. Inscribed on the hoist is “Constitution No. 1” which refers to the size of the flag. In the US Navy the No. 1 ensign was the vessel’s largest.
Tying for top lot status was a rare and early US Commodore’s broad pennant from the USS Constitution , the oldest known representation of a US Commodore’s “broad pennant,” in use from 1837 to 1845 and inscribed on the hoist “Constitution Bradd pendend.” This broad pennant dates from the period when the Constitution served as the flagship of both the Mediterranean Squadron (1837‱838) and the Pacific Squadron (1839‱842) under Commodores Jesse Duncan Elliot and Daniel Turner.
It was fitting that America’s oldest auction house, founded in 1805, sold historic naval colors from America’s oldest war ship, the USS Constitution .
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For more information, www.freemansauction.com or contact 267-414-1240.
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