Published: March 9, 2004
An extremely rare stenciled bed cloth attracted serious attention from folk art dealers from around the country at Timothy Gould’s local estate auction conducted February 21. A prime selection of Americana fresh from the estate along with a wide assortment of rdf_Descriptions that could have, and in some cases should have, gone to the trash brought out an absolutely overflowing crowd.
The sale began with a an assortment of household rdf_Descriptions sold in a true old-fashion ring-style auction out in the parking lot with everything from wash tubs and linens to the family automobile sold. The last rdf_Description sold prior to the sale moving indoors was the stepladder the auctioneer had used to call from.
Once the auction had moved indoors from the parking lot, more than one customer openly wondered if the structure could withstand the weight from both the merchandise and the “packed like sardines” crowd. People stood three and four deep around the outside of the hall from front to rear, were packed in the rear vestibule and every seat in the room was occupied.
At precisely noon things got serious as Tim Gould strode up along side the podium and began explaining the history of the estate. “We are selling the contents of the lifelong home and barn of Dorothy Sanborn Waugh of Vienna, Maine,” stated Gould who added that the estate was multigenerational. Gould spoke briefly about the history of the family, apologized for the overcrowded conditions, and then got right into the meat of the sale with the offering of a coveted piece of stoneware. The three-gallon Gardiner, Maine, stoneware ovoid jug marked R. Thompson was decorated with a large cobalt flower on stalk growing from the ground. Gould looked for an opening bid of $400 and it was off to the races with several in the crowd trying to get the local piece. It ended up selling at $1,760 to a buyer three-deep in the crowd in the rear of the room. Another Gardiner jug to be sold was a Lyman and Clark three-gallon ovoid with large floral decoration in ochre that also sold to a buyer in the rear of the room for $1,980.
A country sign, probably from the 40s or 50s, said to have been erected on the estate advertising fresh eggs and fowl, did well at $2,200, a colorful geometric hooked rug went out at $550, a folky apple tray in old red paint brought $880, a six-board blanket box with bootjack ends in old green paint $1,760 and a grain painted Maine chest sold at $1,100 despite having been cut-down.
An hour into the sale, Gould stopped the auction and related the story behind the one rdf_Description that had attracted national attention to this small country auction, the stenciled bed cloth.
The rare piece had been discovered by the auctioneer in the drawer of a 1930s waterfall bureau while he was cleaning out the estate and Gould speculated that it had gone untouched for the better part of the last century. Found in near mint condition, the bed cloth was comprised of a piece of Nineteenth Century muslin and decorated in a Baltimore album quilt style, although no quilting was actually used on the well-executed piece. The decoration, instead, consisted entirely of colorful watercolor and pigment stenciled panels depicting an ornate tree of life, birds in trees eating fruit, and baskets of fruits surrounded by vines with large clusters of ripe grapes.
Gould commented, “This was only the third time that I have been physically effected by something that I’ve discovered; I couldn’t believe it when I found it and called immediately for one of my helpers to come up and unfold it with me. I really didn’t know what to think at first, and as we unfolded it I was absolutely I was aghast.”
As word got out and the first ads hit in the trade papers, the folk art world perked up and paid attention. Major folk dealers, several museums and scholars made the trip to Gardiner to examine the piece that measured 81/2 by 8 feet. All were reportedly in awe when they left and Gould stated that nobody had anything to say other than “wow.”
Five phone lines were active as the lot was offered with Gould asking for a $25,000 opening bid. He got it immediately and the action progressed rapidly among numerous local bidders in the room moving in $5,000 increments. One bidder in the front row, with apparent high expectations, was dashed when he dropped from the bidding at $65,000. Others in the room picked up the slack to the $90,000 mark where the telephones took over. The lot progressed rapidly between three phones and at the $120,000 mark Gould jumped the advances to $10,000 increments. Action slowed as the lot hit $180,000, although the two phone bidders moved deliberately pushing the price past the $200,000 point with it finally hammering at $210,000, $231,000 including the buyer’s premium.
The bed cloth was purchased by Pennsylvania dealers Patrick Bell and Edwin Hill of Olde Hope Antiques, with stiff competition coming from underbidder David Schorsch of Woodbury, Conn. “It is unquestionably the best example of a stenciled bed cover known,” said Bell of the bed cloth, “The composition, execution, colors and the use of the spoonbills and turkeys in the trees all combine to make it a masterpiece.” Schorsch called the piece, “One of those great, exciting, best of objects – truly something that rewrites our understanding of what is great.”
It did not take long for the excrdf_Descriptionent to end and it was back to business with a whole bunch of merchandise yet to sell. Other rdf_Descriptions in the sale that did well included a turned wooden bowl at $1,155; a nice trencher, $605; a carved butter pat, $1,155; a Rufus Dunham pewter coffee pot $440; and a Currier & Ives print of two albinos $550.
The term brown-bagging was apparently known in Gardiner as four dome-top beer empty cans in near mint condition were found stashed away. The condition, remarked the auctioneer, was directly related to the fact that each had never been removed from its snug fitting brown bag that had been worn since the contents had long ago been emptied. Bidding on the beer cans was brisk with them selling at $1,430.
All prices include the ten percent buyer’s premium charged. For further information contact Tim Gould at 207-362-6045.
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