By David S. Smith
WINDSOR, CONN. – A rare Connecticut highboy soared past presale estimates at Nadeau’s Annual Spring Antiques Auction recently during one of the auction gallery’s most successful and highest-grossing sales to date. The single session auction conducted on March 24 grossed $950,000, an impressive yet bittersweet figure, according to auctioneer Ed Nadeau, falling just shy of “that elusive seven-figure mark.”
The annual spring auction at Nadeau’s has long been a popular watering hole for Americana enthusiasts, many of whom combine their trip to the Hartford area with a visit to the ever-popular Connecticut Antiques Show. Although the auction gallery traditionally gears the selection of merchandise offered towards the show’s Americana oriented dealers and clientele, it is also filled with a wide variety of merchandise ranging from Continental to Victorian.
The spring and fall auctions are traditionally the most popular sales of the year for the auction gallery, with a full house always on hand. The most recent sale was no exception, as a standing room only crowd spilled out into the hallway as the auctioneer made his way to the podium. Nadeau also reported that absentee and phone-bidding interest was at an all-time high with presale interest coming from throughout the US, as well as Canada and Europe.
One of the stars of the auction came from the nearly 70 lots of jewelry that were offered prior to the start of the Americana auction. The lot, a rare Patek Phillipe stainless steel man’s chronograph wristwatch with double registers, had been found in a local West Hartford estate. Nadeau reported that the watch had been discovered while cleaning out the home “in a box filled with cheap watches.” Although unaware of its true value, Nadeau recognized the watch as a quality piece and after further investigation cataloged the chronograph watch with an estimate of $8/12,000. “We had a ton of phone calls,” said the auctioneer regarding presale interest. “Some of them left some fairly strong absentee bids. We had several phone bidders, including one from Toronto, and we also had a couple agents in the room on personal cellular phones with European clients.”
Bidding on the 23-jewel watch opened at $20,000 with conflicting absentee bids and moved quickly in $2,500 increments with two private buyers on the floor doing virtually all the bidding. The crowd, and telephone bidders, grew silent as the piece progressed to a selling price of $46,750, going to a private collector.
Other pieces of jewelry in the auction included a three-carat diamond and platinum ring selling at $5,500, a one-carat diamond and ruby ring at $4,400, a Victorian yellow gold and diamond brooch at $4,125, and a “plain” gold Patek Phillipe watch, circa 1980, which realized $3,575.
The Americana portion of the auction got off to a brisk start with a Victorian cast iron urn selling above the $300/500 presale estimate as it realized $1,045. A couple of lots later a Staffordshire platter with full-masted ship transfer exceeded estimates at $2,420, and a couple of lots after that a Staffordshire cow figurine with repaired ear brought more than ten times the $200/350 estimate as it realized $4,070.
As the first 49 lots were auctioned, an air of anticipation grew in the gallery and rumors circulated regarding lot 50, a rare Connecticut Queen Anne highboy in original finish. Due to the impeccable character of the piece, conversations seemed confined merely to what price the rare case piece would achieve, although eventually all predictions would prove to be dwarfed by the final price realized.
Nadeau had cataloged the piece as a “rare Queen Anne red painted poplar highboy” and further stated that it was in a “remarkable state of preservation.” In fact, the circa 1745 highboy was in virtually untouched condition, retaining the original crusty red paint and etched brasses. It was missing only a couple of pieces, such as 2 bails, one escutcheon, the drop finials, and two knee brackets.
Also circulating throughout the gallery were rumors as to the provenance of the piece, although Nadeau would merely comment that it had been “picked from a home and had been consigned by the picker.” One story indicated, although it would be neither confirmed or denied by Nadeau, that the piece had been found in a rural Connecticut home south of Hartford and had been shopped by the picker to a couple of dealers for less than half of the eventual opening bid. When it failed to sell quickly, fearing overexposure, the picker, who reportedly had the piece on the market for only one day, was said to have gotten nervous and the highboy was subsequently consigned to Nadeau.
Nearly everyone that examined the piece had a differing opinion as to where it had been made, although most concurred it was of Connecticut River Valley origin, while others pointed more directly towards the southeastern Connecticut shoreline. The buyer of the highboy confirmed those beliefs, stating that its construction clearly indicated that it was of Stonington origin.
Construction was also described as being unusual and some felt that the piece had been partially made from “found” wood and was somewhat over-constructed in a manner suitable “to withstand a hurricane.” There was also a sentiment expressed, from one prominent dealer examining the piece, that its maker, while a woodworker by trade, may not have been a cabinetmaker, but perhaps a shipbuilder. Another dealer, the eventual buyer, did not dispute the shipbuilder theory, but countered that due to the exquisite lines and the use of the highest quality etched brasses available from that period, that it was built by a person that “truly understood highboys and design.”
Although estimated at $20/30,000, Nadeau asked for an opening bid of $50,000 and quickly got it from one of the five active phone bidders. Bids came at a rapid pace, moving in $2,500 increments, with Massachusetts dealer Elliott Snyder banging away at the lot from the rear of the room. Nadeau increased the advances to $5,000 at the $75,000 mark, with three phone lines still in hot pursuit, and once again at $100,000 he increased the increments to $10,000. Bidding slowed somewhat and became methodical bouncing back and forth between two telephones. A bid of $150,000 came slowly, although it was followed quickly by a $160,000 bid and was hammered down to Woodbury, Conn., dealer Wayne Pratt.
The price, including the ten-percent buyer’s premium, of $176,000 established a high-water mark for Nadeau’s with the highboy becoming the most expensive rdf_Description ever sold by the gallery.
The highboy has since been exhibited at the prestigious Philadelphia Antiques Show, appearing in Pratt’s booth, and as indicated in last week’s coverage of the show, it is thought to have been sold. Pratt has since confirmed that a “hold” has been placed on the important case piece by a client who inspected it in Philadelphia.
Pratt commented that the highboy was one of the “top two or three” pieces of furniture that he has ever owned and stated that it was one of only a couple of pieces that he had ever considered keeping for himself. The dealer’s excrdf_Descriptionent was apparent as adjectives such as “spectacular,” “amazing,” and “wonderful” were perpetually used to describe the highboy.
“The lines, design, and proportions are amazing,” stated Pratt. “When you stand in front of it and look at it, it’s exquisite.”
“Everything about this piece indicates that it was constructed by a very fine craftsman,” said Pratt. “The moldings are wonderful, the returns are the nicest I’ve ever seen, the oak legs swing in perfectly. It was made to be painted and the surface is spectacular, with no overpaint whatsoever. Of all the highboys that I have owned,” he continued, “this is the best one from that period.”
While the highboy was certainly the talk of the town, several other furniture lots also brought substantial prices. A Connecticut River Valley Chippendale cherry chest on chest with a broken arch pediment and carved fan drawer also exceeded estimates. The case piece, estimated at $14/18,000, had been consigned from a West Hartford estate and was said to have descended in the same family for the last 100-plus years. Aside from the old, but unoriginal, finish, the case piece was described as being intact, still retaining the original brasses and finial. Bidding on this lot was also brisk, with it selling to a phone bidder for $36,300.
A set of six early Queen Anne chairs with yoke backs, vasi-form splats, and strong lower turnings had been consigned by a private collector who had moved to smaller quarters and no longer had room for the chairs. The chairs, described as being of Connecticut origin, circa 1765, were sold with all proceeds donated to the Connecticut Historical Society. Estimated at $10/15,000, the chairs realized $24,750.
Other furniture included a pair of Victorian upholstered sofas with heavily carved eagle form legs with outstretched wings extending back down the arms of the sofa selling at $8,800, a Classical Revival carved mahogany pedestal dining table bringing $3,575, and a Federal inlaid mahogany game table realizing $2,970.
Nadeau’s has established a solid reputation over the years for offering prime examples of art by Rockville, Conn., artist C.E. Porter (1848-1923). Seven Porters crossed the block this time around, grossing $104,500, with six of the examples reportedly collected more than 30 years ago and consigned from a Rockville home. Porter, a black artist, had a career that fluctuated over the years, with his popularity and financial status dwindling in the later portion of his life. Interestingly, one of the paintings offered had been executed on an old window shade.
Nadeau reported calls from throughout the country on the Porters, with a Beverly Hills buyer claiming a still life of roses at $18,150, while a New York buyer bought four others. “It’s not just a local thing anymore,” said Nadeau, referring to Porter’s popularity. “We had two bidders from California, bidders from Arizona, Missouri, Florida, and New York, in addition to the local collectors.”
The top lot of the Porters was a large still life depicting a basket on its side with a mass of ripe cherries spilling out. The auction gallery described it as “one of the best and largest fruit still life paintings by Porter to have ever been offered at auction.” The oil, measuring 20 by 28 inches, opened for bidding at $9,000, against a presale estimate of $8/10,000. Bidding bounced back and forth between the gallery and an absentee bid to $14,000, then between the gallery and a phone bidder, with the telephone taking the lot at $25,300, a record price paid at auction for a Porter.
Other paintings by Porter included a framed oil on canvas depicting peonies at $17,600, a small bowl of cherries at $7,700, a still life of apples and grapes at $5,500, and a still life depicting a vase filled with flowers realizing $12,100. Also sold was a 24 by 20 inch still life, oil painted on a window shade, depicting a vase of mountain laurel blossoms, that rocketed past the $4/6,000 presale estimate as it brought $17,600.
Several E. Howard clocks, consigned from the same home as the Patek Phillipe watch, also brought substantial prices, with a banjo clock bringing $3,080, a regulator $4,290, a #1 banjo $3,575, and a regulator with circular housing and red and black eglomise panel realizing $4,290. Also offered was a Seth Thomas carved Victorian walnut architectural double dial calendar clock with some missing parts that brought $6,050.
Two tall case clocks were also sold, with a Federal example with birch case and arched bonnet bringing $5,500, while a restored Phineas North Connecticut Chippendale clock brought $3,410.
Other rdf_Descriptions of interest included a Neo-Classical figural gilt bronze mantel clock selling at $5,500, a Classical gilt wood and gesso convex girandole mirror with eagle crest bringing $14,300, a Percy Moran oil on canvas depicting a Revolutionary War scene garnering $17,600, and a pair of limestone carved garden figures bringing $7,700.
Prices include the ten-percent buyer’s premium.