Published: October 5, 2004
Sold originally by the artist by lottery, the undeniably exquisite view of the schooner Charles Carroll in Portsmouth Harbor by Nineteenth Century Portsmouth painter, musician, poet and town eccentric Thomas P. Moses realized $662,500 at Northeast Auctions’ record-breaking sale August 21 and 22.
The vessel sits broadside on the river at sunrise against a background of finely detailed spars. Crew members are visible on deck and other boats and houses along the shore are visible, also in fine detail. The picture was inscribed on the reverse, “On the Piscataqua from the north end of Noble’s Bridge/Original. Thos. P. Moses/Portsmouth, N.H./The Fall of 1875.”
The painting had sold at Child’s Gallery in Boston and again in 1994 for a hammer price of $190,000 at Sotheby’s sale of the Bertram K. Little and Nina Fletcher Little collection to the private collector who consigned it. Estimated at $90/150,000, the picture went to a New England collector. Collectors prevailed and took some 90 percent of the lots sold.
A second Moses picture of an American ship entering Portsmouth Harbor near Fort Point, with Portsmouth Harbor light and Whaleback light in the background, attracted much interest and sold for $23,000, nearly twice the estimate, to Peter Sawyer. Carl Crossman had identified the picture as being a Moses work.
Another extraordinary painting was Yeuqua’s late 1850s panoramic and highly detailed early view of colonial Hong Kong and its harbor that elicited $233,500. The painting measured 141/2 by 60 inches and came from one Massachusetts collector and went to another.
Ange-Joseph Antoine Roux’s watercolor 1803 view of the US Navy frigate President at Marseille was also of interest and brought $98,750. It came from a Connecticut estate and sold to a collector. An early view of the hongs at Canton made before 1803 by an artist in the circle of Spoilum fetched $97,750.
A pair of snow scenes of Fifth Avenue in New York City by Johann Berthelsen realized $24,150.
Portsmouth pieces are a perennial favorite at Northeast sales, and a fine pair of Portsmouth Mechanic Society red fire buckets decorated with eagles by John S. Blunt was $23,000. They came from an area consignor and sold to a folk art dealer. An Emile Gruppe view of Strawbery Banke, which is just around the corner from Northeast, brought $11,150.
A selection of Antonio Jacobsen paintings deaccessioned by The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va., brought prices well above the estimates from dealers and collectors. An 1891 view of the tug E. Heipershausen brought $63,120 against its estimated $5,5/7,500; a signed and dated 1903 view of the Lewis Pulver was estimated at $5/8,000 and brought $33,350; an 1880 view of the paddle wheeler Armenia fetched $24,150 against its estimated $1,5/2,500. Jacobsen’s rendering of the Umbria went to $29,900 against its estimated $4/6,000, and an 1892 view of the Venezuela brought $19,550.
The sale was chockablock with really fine offerings. An extraordinary mahogany and ebony double swift with fanciful whalebone and abalone inlay drew $118,000 from a private collector after what auctioneer Ronald Bourgeault termed “a passionate competition.” Family lore held that the swift was made by Captain Joseph K. Green, master of the New Bedford whaler Susan. It was tied with what were presumed to be the original red and blue ribbons.
A pair of sperm whale teeth with polychrome decorations of liberty on one and justice on the other also came from the Captain Green estate and sold to a collector for $54,625. Family tradition also held that Captain Green made the mahogany knife box with inlaid five-point stars, vines and leaves that sold for $13,800.
A Chinese export porcelain punch bowl decorated elaborately with hunt scenes and bearing the owner’s monogram SB realized $34,255. The bowl was brought from China for Samuel Breck in 1785 aboard the Boston merchant ship Empress of China, the first American vessel to trade at Canton. The ship set sail from New York on George Washington’s birthday in 1784 under the command of one Captain John Green.
A pair of Sheraton giltwood mirrors with eglomise panels featuring sailing ships was $27,600 and a China Trade carved rosewood and cane sofa in the Regency style drew $13,800.
Among a selection of fine creamware the most favored was a Liverpool jug with a transfer image of a lighthouse and signal flags identified as “Signals at Portland Observatory” that brought $20,275.
A first octavo edition of Audubon’s Birds of America that Audubon published in New York between 1840 and 1844 concurrently with the Philadelphia publication by J.B. Chevalier sold for $72,900. A Havel engraving elephant folio engraving of Audubon’s yellow-billed magpie, the Stellars jay, the ultramarine jay and Clark’s crow sold for $7,130.
An early, engraved Order of the Society of the Cincinnati signed by George Washington at Mount Vernon October 31, 1785, and countersigned by Henry Knox, was a resounding $21,275.
Three full-bodied duck decoys in black with tack eyes were all found in Iowa and sold for $14,375. Another lot of decoys included three black ducks with glass eyes and three with tack eyes sold for $12,225.
Prices reported include 15 percent buyer’s premium.
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