Published: August 29, 2000
Historic Bradstreet Collection Featured at Acorn
Rare Portrait Fetches $40,000 from a Connecticut Dealer
CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. – Acorn Auction Gallery offered the recently discovered General John Bradstreet collection for sale on Thursday, August 17. The collection, one of tremendous historical significance, consisted of letters, documents, deeds, maps and the only known portrait of the General. The collection, en masse, was found in a Schenectady, N.Y. attic. Auction rdf_Descriptions had been lovingly collected and preserved by Bradstreet’s granddaughter, Martha Bradstreet (1780-1871). The oil on canvas portrait, in original gold gilt frame, was attributed to Thomas McIlworth, circa 1760. The portrait was considered the centerpiece of this sale.
General John Baptiste Bradstreet was an adventurer whom the English thought was American and the Americans thought was British. Bradstreet, who was actually born in the Acadia region of Canada, kept his Canadian citizenship close to his vest. Although he was once the Governor of Newfoundland, Bradstreet is best known for his role in the French and Indian Wars and his important worldwide connections. His good friend and cohort was Philip Schuyler, but Bradstreet was also known to rub elbows with the likes of William Pitt and Thomas Gage.
Acorn had the great fortune to have Bradstreet expert, Dr William Godfrey of Mount Allison University (NB), on site for an auction reception the night before. Godfrey is the author of the “most definitive book” on John Bradstreet and considers the General a “spirited adventurer who was able to work both sides of the ocean.” He explained that Bradstreet was not above helping himself to the till every time he captured a fort or arranged a rations deal.
When Godfrey finished the Bradstreet book, his publishers asked for a picture of the General. Godfrey had to decline, explaining that no pictures of the General existed. Little did he know that one would surface in the summer of 2000.
There was no pre-auction estimate for the Bradstreet painting, as there was no other picture of the General and thus nothing to gauge an estimate against. The painting came up early in the fast-paced auction. Museums, dealers and private collectors all took a stab at the oil on canvas. As lot #43, the picture quickly climbed in $1,000 increments to a final sale price of $40,000. The work was won by “the guy in the purple shirt,” New Haven dealer William Reese.
When asked about the price, Reese said the $40,000 he paid was no bargain. But many local collectors were surprised the painting had not gone higher. Godfrey was a little disappointed that the portrait went to a dealer and not to a museum. Reese, who has been in the antiques business for 26 years, plans on having the painting cleaned and preserved. He hopes that some of the original grime and dirt might have somehow protected the painting through the years.
After the Bradstreet painting, Aaron Burr and his letters garnered the most attention. At times, the Burr letters seemed to over shadow the Bradstreet family papers. Autograph collector and dealer, George Hollingsworth was eagerly bidding on anything Burr.
On the phone, a California dealer didn’t want to miss out on the signed Burr documents. The first Burr lot contained two signed business letters. They went quickly for $1,600. Lot #11, a “charming letter” written and signed by Burr, sold for $1,200. Three Burr letters mentioning the Williamstown meeting brought $1,900. But the Burr collectors were only testing the waters with these pieces. After a few lots, Burr prices began to climb.
Three 1823 letters written and signed by Burr, in which he mentions Martha Bradstreet and the New Hope homestead, went for $2,000 to a phone bidder. Lot #52, with its four Burr signatures and letter proposing a Congressional act of relief for Martha Bradstreet, didn’t last long at $2,200. Five 1828-30 Burr letters, with signatures written by his secretary, J. Pelletreau, went to George Hollingsworth for $2,600. A humorous Aaron Burr letter pertaining to a political fable about turkeys and ducks brought a high bid of $2,750. Three signed Burr letters (1824-29), one in which he consoles Martha Bradstreet, went to a phone bidder for $2,400.
Women’s letters from Martha Bradstreet included a missive to Mary Farley, Indian daughter of Sir William Johnson and Molly Brandt. The letters got knocked down for a quick $1,300. Martha’s 1817 divorce decree from Matthew Codd on parchment, along with the Act of Congress allowing her to change her name back to Bradstreet, brought $600. Not surprisingly, Martha was considered by many to be an early feminist.
The 1824-1864 John Tillinghast letters to Martha Bradstreet, 250 in number, concerning gossip, cholera and overtures, went for a surprising $3,200. Tillinghast was a New York Bar Librarian and author. A series of six 1815-1819 Thomas Cloney (leader of the Irish Rebellion) letters to Martha didn’t last long either. They went for $2,200. The Francis Scott Key letter to Martha left the hall for $1,200.
General Bradstreet’s 1774 will, signed only two days before he died of cirrhosis, was taken home for $1,200. A 1768 Bradstreet Indian deed handled by Philip Schuyler followed with a phone bid of $1,100. A collection of Civil War letters from S.E. Crandall of the 1st Minnesota Battery 4th Division to mother-in-law, Phoebe Bradstreet, regarding Sherman, Atlanta, and Savannah vanished for $2,300. A group of Brantz Mayer letters written to Martha Bradstreet during the Civil War went home for $1,000.
Maps were also popular rdf_Descriptions with the Acorn crowd. A 1835 Desorby litho map of the city of Utica showing the Courthouse and Female Institute left the hall early at $1,900. An 1835 hand-colored “Planesphere” map of the Constellations depicting mythological creatures seemed a steal at $300. Some small survey maps of the Mohawk River went quickly for $525.
An original 1792 survey and hand colored map of the Gore and Unadilla River got snatched up for $1,100. A Cockburn and Cox 1785 map of the Bradstreet lands between the Delaware and the Susquehana Rivers was taken for $1,900. Two hand-colored survey maps of Hyde Hall at Otsego Lake signed by George Clinton went for $1,300. A Shulman Bartlett Map and field book didn’t last at $1,900. Hand drawn maps by Charles Brodhead regarding the Erie Canal expansion went to Bill Reed for $2,100. A 1819 John Savage map of Cosby Manor could be had for $1,300. A collection of early maps and Matthew Codd ledger sheets brought $1,800.
Other rdf_Descriptions of interest were old area newspapers that featured Custer’s Last Stand and Johnson’s Impeachment. They left the room for $200. There was also a Victorian assortment of tintypes and photographs of the Bradstreet descendants. The assortment got grabbed up for $875. Two Utica directories (1828-1829) were taken for $800.
An 1832 copy of The Catechism of Mythology, by William Darlington, dedicated in print to Martha Bradstreet and embossed with her name on the cover was grabbed for $375. An MT Tobias watch, London, with engraved case with eagle and shield without lens was taken by a bidder on the phone for $600. Two gold carnelian wax seal fobs, one with profile, one with initials went for $450. A Sheridan-style shaving mirror with drawer initialed ELB (Edward Livius Bradstreet) on the back was taken for $400.
The Bradstreet genealogy/pedigree was a surprise when it went for a mere $25. Another surprise was the sale of the trunk in which the Bradstreet collection was store and discovered. It was filled with crazy quilt pieces, some with ribbons from fire companies in Deposit, Bainbridge and Binghamton, N.Y. The pieces were in remarkably good shape and ready to use for quilting. The famous trunk with quilt pieces sold for only $200.
Many of the Bradstreet documents, wills and deeds dealt with the family trying to take back land pilfered by the General’s so-called friend, Philip Schuyler. Over the years, Schuyler was able to sign some of Bradstreet’s land and houses over to his own children. Of course, some of us felt a little sorry for Schuyler. After all, his son John did bear a remarkable resemblance to General Bradstreet.
When the final hammer went down just before 9 pm, the 187 lots had realized more than $400,000. And, it was hard to figure out who worked harder, owner/auctioneer Jim Carter or Jackie on that infamous red phone.
Acorn owners, Jim and Danielle Carter really know how to have an auction. They held an impromptu reception on August 16 welcoming Dr William Godfrey to the states. The professor came all the way down from Sackville, New Brunswick. He was good enough to autograph his book on General Bradstreet for the crowd. After, Godfrey gave a short lecture giving many insights into John Bradstreet’s character.
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