Published: August 19, 2011
One of the rites of summer on Cape Cod, Eldred’s three-day-long celebration of Americana at auction proved immensely popular once again this year. Summer residents, vacationers, locals and a host of dealers flocked to the auction house August 3‵, paying the sort of prices for furnishings and accessories that are hard to achieve elsewhere.
Conducted, as always, under the festive green and white tent in the courtyard outside of the gallery, the chairs filled quickly and a row of bidders stood fast at the back of the make-do gallery. Bidding was brisk throughout the sale, starting with a selection of silver that attracted strong interest from several in the crowd. The first lot of the sale would prove an accurate gauge for the auction, as a Tiffany sterling porringer more than doubled the low estimate it was offered at.
Routinely, as auctioneer Bob Eldred asked for an opening bid just below estimates, bidders in the rear of the tent called out bids far above what he was asking for. While Bob has been known to often times ask clients to repeat themselves, he laughingly acknowledged that he was able to hear every one of those bids with ease.
A Towle sterling tea and coffee service, 77.8 ounces, nearly doubled estimates bringing $2,760; a lot of various serving pieces by a variety of makers soared past the $400/600 estimates to bring $1,610; a cased Gorham flatware set in the Etruscan pattern realized $4,312; and a flatware set by Georg Jensen in the Pyramid pattern went out at $6,325.
Decoys were up next, and they sold reasonably, with a nice Mason black duck realizing $188; a boxed set of 12 yellowlegs tin folding shorebirds, $632; a plump Ira Hudson brandt, $1,840; and a contemporary yellowlegs decorative carving by William Gibian, one of several offered, sold on the cheap at $186.
A selection of Native American items included a large olla that was brought to the gallery on an appraisal day conducted at Eldred’s. “It was the only thing like it in the home,” stated Eldred’s president and Asian art specialist John Schofield. “There was nothing else remotely like it, so we really don’t know much about its history and how the family acquired it,” he said. The large Acoma pot, circa 1900, measuring just over 18 inches tall, was decorated with three large birds amid a field of vines and flowers. The gallery estimated the lot at $10/15,000, yet when the dust had settled, a final price of $34,500 was achieved.
A rare engraved silver and horn drinking vessel inscribed with the name of a US Ranger from Kentucky and dated 1814 was another lot on opening day to attract a great deal of attention. Having descended in the original family, the lot handily exceeded estimates, bringing $12,650.
Day two opened with a selection of Orientalia and the first lot, a Chinese Export porcelain garden seat decorated in a blue and white landscape pattern, more than tripled the low estimate, selling for $920. A pair of monumental Chinese Export Rose Mandarin vases with gilt foo dog-form handles had been consigned from a Plymouth, Mass., private collection that Bob Eldred had been after for more years than he cared to remember. Phone action on the lot, as well as substantial Internet bidding and interest from the gallery pushed the price of the 3-foot-tall vases to $10,925. A smaller pair, measuring 18 inches tall, went out at a somewhat smaller price, bringing $2,070.
It was day three of the auction that saw the most action as this session contained the major artworks and select furniture. The sale opened with a trompe l’oeil painting by contemporary artist William Davis. Imitating not only life, but the Nineteenth Century masters of this genre, the first of the paintings depicted a series of turn-of-the-century stamped envelopes with canceled postal markings from New Orleans and San Francisco. Estimated at $4/6,000, the lot fell between estimates at $5,750.
A second Davis trompe l’oeil depicted a series of stamps from 1870 to 1871 from a stamp dealer’s inventory, applied to a sheet and marked with faux “pencil” prices. The work was signed in an unusual manner, and one of the stamps had a self-portrait of Davis and his name across the top of the stamp. Bringing double the high estimate, the sweet and small painting sold at $12,650.
A couple of lots later, “Gloucester Harbor in Winter” by Emile Gruppe did well, bringing $20,700, while an Aldro Hibbard oil titled “Vermont Summer” followed, realizing $9,200.
The top lot of the auction came as no surprise to the auction gallery, price-wise that is. The surprising part was the nature of the consignment. “It came in with a pile of junk in the trunk of a car,” stated auctioneer Josh Eldred prior to the start of the sale. While the rest of the junk remained in the trunk, the younger of the Eldred auctioneers plucked the dirt laden painting out of the mess and left the rest.
“It was filthy and the frame was hiding the signature,” said Josh, who decided to bring it inside for a better look. After a thorough cleaning and authentication, the rare small William Merritt Chase painting on panel, “Sailboats on Beach,” measuring roughly 8 by 10 inches, was featured on the cover of the catalog.
Substantial interest was expressed in the painting prior to the auction and a host of phone bidders actively competed for the lot as it crossed the block. Selling at more than double the $40/60,000 presale estimates, the rare work brought $126,500.
Another strange tale regarding a consignment was related by Josh Eldred, who reported that he received a phone call from a gentleman that had discovered some paintings in a storage unit in Idaho. Aware that Eldred’s had sold some paintings by the artist in the past, the storage unit owner called Josh and described a series of paintings with mermaids that were signed by a fellow named Ralph Cahoon. “He had no idea what they were worth,” commented Josh.
Adding to the interest was the fact that Joan Payson’s “Country Art Gallery, Long Island’ label was on the verso of the paintings. Payson, a New York socialite and art dealer, who would eventually become a co-owner of the Mets baseball team, was one of Cahoon’s early agents, and she was instrumental in convincing the artist to switch from decorating furniture to oil painting.
The first of the “storage unit” paintings, “Les Mode Parisiennes,” depicted a host of mermaids using whales as dressing tables while trying on the latest Parisian fashion that they had removed from trunks floating in the waters nearby. Estimated at $60/80,000, the painting failed to find a buyer.
The next three paintings by Cahoon from the storage unit fared better, with an oval scene depicting a photographer taking pictures of a mermaid on the beach selling above estimates at $17,250; a scene of three men chatting with a reclining mermaid went out the same way; and the final painting of four male equestrians in red jackets chatting with mermaids realized $20,700.
The top lot of the selection of Ralph Cahoon paintings came a few lots later when a scene titled “The Lobster Pound” was sold. Estimated at $30/40,000, the painting depicted two young men, a yellow Labrador and a cat, all about to feast on lobsters that several mermaids had cooked up. The seaside Lobster Pound building was flying an American flag, and hot air balloons, sailing ships and a lighthouse were in the background. Bidding on the lot was active, selling at $46,000.
A 4-foot-diameter round table top with a Ralph Cahoon painting titled “Nantucket and Beyond” was also popular, bringing $16,520.
A contemporary painting titled “Jib + Main Sail Cat off Stone Horse Lighthouse” did well, selling at $9,440; a Robert Salmon mountainous landscape with a ship sailing on a river brought $14,950; a luminous coastal scene by Charles Gifford, $11,210; and a Wesley Webber oil of a beached ship realized $7,475.
Furniture did well with the top lot coming as a walnut Chippendale four-drawer chest on a bold ogee bracket base was offered. With a nice molded edge top with good overhang, the chest had pleasing proportions and sold at $14,950. A diminutive English Chippendale four-drawer chest with graduated drawers sold above estimates at $4,025, while a Hepplewhite cherry swell front chest with bird’s-eye maple drawer fronts went out at $3,335.
One bargain of the furnishings was an attractive Queen Anne highboy that hammered down at only $1,888. Another good buy was a large Pennsylvania step-back cupboard with three drawers over two blind doors in the base and glazed doors above. Selling below estimates, it went out at $2,760.
A rare Howard banjo clock was among numerous timepieces offered with the #1 example selling at $5,175.
A sleeper at the tail end of the auction did not quite slip by everyone. A Nicolau Antonio Facchinetti oil on artist’s board depicting a coastal landscape of Rio De Janerio was signed and dated 1878. Estimated at $3/5,000, the painting took off as it crossed the block, realizing $40,250.
The Asian art auction at Eldred’s will take place August 25′7. Prices include the buyer’s premium. For information, 508-385-3116, or www.eldreds.com .
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