Published: July 20, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Schwenke Auctioneers
WOODBURY, CONN. – The Darien, Conn., estate of maritime collector George E. Ratcliffe anchored Schwenke Auctioneers’ July 10 auction, with more than 150 lots of ship paintings, maritime documents and nautical antiques. Ratcliffe’s passion for all things marine began at the age of 15 when he served as the utility boy on board the M/V (motor vessel) Bellingham on its roundtrip voyage from Seattle to Alaska in 1943; he followed by attending the United States Merchant Marine Academy and joining the US Navy.
Ratcliffe’s eye for marine art and artifacts was particularly evident in the quality of the fine art in his collection, including two paintings by Danish American painter Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen (1850-1921), which were early favorites and sailed to an easy lead. Jacobsen’s 1892 portrait of the tugboat Fred B. Dalzell courted interest from potential buyers in both the United States and the United Kingdom bidding on both the phones and online. A representative for Rehs Galleries, who traveled to Woodbury to examine the painting prior to the sale, prevailed against seven other phone bidders with a high bid of $30,500.
Ratcliffe had acquired the Fred B. Dalzell painting in 1978 from the Post Road Gallery in Larchmont, N.Y., at the same time that he bought another painting by Jacobsen that depicted the tugboat C.P. Raymond. Both boats were part of a fleet of a towing company jointly owned by Fred B. Dalzell and C.P. Raymond in New York City. Schwenke did not know where the painting of the C.P. Raymond was, only that Ratcliffe had consigned it for sale with a marine antiques dealer in 1982.
If the Fred B. Dalzell was in the lead, Jacobsen’s painting of the Steamship Olivette was just a few lengths behind and sailed to a different phone bidder for $20,740. The Olivette had been built by Philadelphia ship-builders Wm Cramp & Sons Company in 1887 for the Plant Railroad & Steamship Company; Jacobsen had painted its oil on canvas portrait in 1888. The ship sailed until 1918, when it was wrecked off the coast of Havana, Cuba.
The rest of the marine paintings in the Ratcliffe collection sold more modestly. Charles Keith Miller’s (British, 1836-1907) 1906 oil on canvas painting of the steamship SS Donegal, which Ratcliffe purchased from the Parker Gallery in London in 1984, sold to an online buyer for $2,440. The top four of nearly 50 marine pictures on offer from Ratcliffe’s estate illustrated his eye and the breadth and quality of his collection. “Lively and Tourterelle” was done by modern marine artist John Bentham-Dinsdale (British, 1927-2008) in oil on board and depicted a scene of the British ship HMS Lively and the French courvette Tourterelle; Ratcliffe had acquired from the Wally Findlay Gallery in 1986 and it brought $2,074.
A Fairfield County, Conn., estate of nearly comparable size – 133 lots in all – formed another significant portion of the sale, spanning many diverse collecting categories with several pieces among the auction’s highest flying lots. Thomas Schwenke described it as having “a lot of really interesting stand-out lots.”
Arms and armor seem to have been a particular interest and specialty of the collector as a cased Colt .44 caliber army percussion revolver, with shoulder stock and marked Colt accessories went off with a bang, bringing $7,320 from an American buyer bidding online. Another American buyer, also bidding online, took a pair of cased French percussion dueling pistols that capped off at $6,100. A pair of English dueling pistols, made by Richard Hollis & Sons nearly doubled when they realized $3,965, a price realized by both a Winchester model 12 gauge shotgun and a vintage miniature suit of armor.
It is logical that collectors of guns occasionally collect decoys as well, and the Fairfield County collector had several decoys offered in seven lots. A group of four painted wood decoys flew to $6,710 and included two signed LT Ward and one signed H. Conklin.
Provenance to the collection of William J. Mackey undoubtedly helped the result on a pair of painted wood shore birds that made $3,416; each bore the Mackey Collection stamp on their undersides, reassuring collectors of their quality despite paint wear, losses and some minor repairs to each.
Nearly a dozen lots of coins and proof sets were from the Fairfield County estate; a four-coin set of 1998W American Eagle gold bullion proofs for $50, $25, $10 and $5 coins realized the highest price and sold to an online buyer for $4,270. The rest of the proof and coin sets achieved prices ranging from $214 to $2,196.
A New York City private collection offered many of the Asian works of art in the sale, which were led by a pair of signed Chinese vases that topped off at $2,806; $610 was realized for a pair of Chinese figures that had been made into lamp bases.
“We were grateful we were able to handle the Ratcliffe estate,” Schwenke said when we reached him by phone after the sale. “It was something we appreciated as it fit well within our market and solidified the connection we have in both Fairfield and Litchfield Counties. We were very pleased with the results and see them as a testament to the fact that good, fresh material is still what people want.”
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For more information, 203-263-0323 or www.woodburyauction.com.
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