Published: December 8, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Skinner, Inc.
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – On November 23, Skinner concluded an 11-day online-only sale of various owner American furniture and decorative arts, within which was a 55-lot collection of Shaker furniture and decorative objects from the collection of Brenda and Charles R. Muller of Canal Winchester, Ohio. The Muller collection realized a total of $72,687 with the general sale bringing in $1,243,663 for an aggregate total of $1,296,350.
A patriotic sand bottle by Andrew Clemens brought $275,000 from a private collector. Not only was that the top price in the sale but it was a new record for a sand bottle by Clemens, having smashed the previous record of $132,000 that had been set two years ago at Cowan’s. According to Stephen Fletcher, Skinner’s executive vice president and director of American Furniture & Decorative Arts, bottles by Clemens were practically unseen on the market until 2002, when one surfaced at an Antiques Roadshow taping in Hot Springs, Ark. As it turns out, that bottle was the same one Skinner offered, now 18 years later and after several of Clemens’ sand bottles had come to auction.
Deaf-mute from an illness at an early age, Andrew Clemens (American, 1857-1894) lived and worked in McGregor, Iowa. He assembled sand bottles grain by grain, using only the pressure of surrounding sand to keep the designs intact, sealing the bottles at the top with wax. Bottles featured a range of decoration, from simple geometric to more complex designs; this bottle had been published by Roy Sucholeiki, in his 2015 book, The Sand Art Bottles of Andrew Clemens.
Not only did the example Skinner offered have a complex decorative scheme – in addition to geometric and abstract designs it also featured such patriotic emblems as an eagle and flag – but it included a dedication to Dr Prosper Harvey Ellsworth that read “From Two Friends” above an outstretched hand and a mortar and pestle. A paper label affixed to the bottom read “Pictured Rocs Sand / Put up by / A. Clemens / Deaf Mute / McGregor, Iowa.” According to the catalog note, Dr Prosper Harvey Ellsworth (b 1838) had been a surgeon in the 106th Illinois Volunteer Infantry before moving to Hot Springs after the war. The bottle descended in the family of Dr Ellsworth before family connections to colleagues at Skinner introduced the bottle to Fletcher. The rest is, as they say, history, and it will be interesting to see how long that record stands.
“Chuck Muller had a very good reputation; it helps when you are selling the collection of someone well-liked,” Fletcher said as our conversation shifted to the Shaker collection. “He bought the best he could afford, and while there were no masterpieces, there were some really nifty things. People responded because of how well he was liked and I was happy with the result.”
A red-painted sewing desk attributed to Enfield, N.H., topped the Muller group, more than doubling its high estimate and bringing $25,000. The desk had been professionally refinished but Fletcher said it looked wonderful and was otherwise in impeccable condition. A Shaker sewing desk from Harvard, Mass., that featured nine drawers and a pull-out work board had crossed the block at Skinner in 1979 before being owned by Doug Hamel. Fletcher said it had probably come out of a local collection at the time. It almost tripled its low estimate, selling for $8,750. Selling to a collector for $4,375 and squarely within its $3/5,000 estimate was a Shaker red-painted 23-drawer case attributed to the workshop of George Wilcox of Enfield, Conn., that had been illustrated in The Book of Shaker Furniture by John Kassay.
Shaker pantry boxes were plentiful in the sale but seed boxes were of more limited offering, with one in particular doing exceptionally well. A box painted red with stenciled lettering “Shaker Garden Seeds,” from Union Village in Ohio brought $3,625 against an estimate of $400/600. “Several people said this particular one is very rare; you don’t usually see them from that region,” Fletcher said, explaining the result.
A set of six Twentieth Century Shaker ladder-back chairs that achieved $3,250 had provenance to Lillian Barlow and the John S. Roberts collection at Shaker Farm, Canaan, N.Y., as well as having been offered at Christie’s New York in 1994. Rounding out the highlights from the Muller collection was a small red-stained drop-leaf table, attributed to Enfield, Conn., that brought $2,000.
A circa 1735 walnut burl veneered and inlaid tall case clock with an engraved brass dial inscribed “Will. Claggett. Newp.,” inspired interest and inquiries. Fletcher said there had been some discussion as to whether or not it had originally had a sarcophagus top and whether it had been made in the United States or England. The clock had descended in the Atkinson family of Newport, R.I., had been illustrated in both Claggett, Newport’s Illustrious Clockmakers by Donald L. Fennimore and Frank Hohmann III and the catalog for the Redwood Atheneum’s exhibition “The Claggetts of Newport: Master Clockmakers in Colonial America,” where it appeared in 2018-19. The clock sold for $50,000, within estimate.
The sale included three lots of Eighteenth Century furniture from Bermuda, all consigned from local corporate collection. “We had as many inquiries on that as in any of the other furniture,” Fletcher observed, noting competition came from both private collectors and trade buyers bidding on behalf of clients. Of the three lots, a Chippendale tea table in cedar and walnut finished at $32,500, a pair of Chippendale cedar side chairs went out at $18,750 and a single Queen Anne carved cedar side chair made $5,313. Fletcher said the single chair was staying in the United States.
Fine art saw a few surprises. Among Fletcher’s favorite lots in the sale were two folk art landscapes cataloged as American/Canadian School, the first one of a blue Victorian farmhouse with barns, the second depicting a barn complex. Both brought $9,375 but sold to different buyers, with a private collector in the United States who owns a related work acquiring the one of the barn complex. According to Skinner’s catalog note, “Robert Bishop, author of the 1979 Folk Painters of America, held this anonymous artist’s work in such high esteem that he illustrated an example of it on the dust jacket of that pioneering book. A simpler but similar work that sold in 2006 is inscribed ‘T. Bonneau’ and ‘Iberville, P.Q.,'” which suggests that these were done by an artist of French Canadian identity. Fletcher thought that both “would do better. These are the best ones by that hand that I’d seen. They were good buys.”
Provenance may have played a part in the success of two folk art portraits. “Portrait of Deacon Harlow Pease” by Erastus Salisbury Field (Massachusetts/New York, circa 1805-1900) had been in the collection of Thomas D. and Constance Williams of Litchfield, Conn., Stuart Gregory and the collection of Sybill and Arthur Kern; it exceeded its high estimate to close at $8,750. Finishing for just a little less was “Portrait of a Boy with a Fife” by Rufus Hathaway (Massachusetts, 1770-1822), that both Joan Brownstein and Hirschl & Adler had handled. It also exceeded expectations and sold for $8,125.
Notable smalls included a Paul Revere Jr silver tablespoon that more than doubled its low estimate to bring $13,750, a spatterware plate in red, yellow and green “festoon” pattern that Fletcher said reminded him of fireworks went off with a bang, selling for $8,750, more than ten times its high estimate. A small green Fitz Hugh export porcelain oval serving dish with eagle decoration flew to $6,250 and a New England pine box with painted landscape decoration finished at $5,000.
Skinner’s next Americana sale will take place in early April.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported.
For information, 508-970-3200 or www.skinnerinc.com.
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