Published: November 28, 2017
EAST DENNIS, MASS. – In a sale that saw strong results across all major collecting categories, scrimshaw rose to the top at Eldred’s fall Americana auction, November 16-18, where 12 lots from the Kobacker scrimshaw collection each sold for more than $20,000. The diverse 1,450-lot auction also included paintings, antique and midcentury furniture, sporting art, decorative art and more.
Fifty-two lots from the Kobacker collection, amassed by Arthur and Sara Jo Kobacker of Nantucket, were the first to cross the block during the auction’s first session on Thursday and netted $557,010, surpassing estimates by more than $200,000.
Highlights included a polychrome tooth attributed to N.S. Finney, which brought $42,000, a polychrome tooth decorated with patriotic motifs, including an eagle, shield and cannons, which sold for $39,000, and a polychrome “Wahinee” tooth attributed to George Hiliott depicting a native Hawaiian woman on the obverse and a well-dressed woman on horseback on the reverse, which also sold for $42,000.
A similar tooth by Hiliott is illustrated in Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved by Stuart Frank. In the book, Frank claims Hiliott engraved at least five teeth with a romanticized depiction of Hawaiian women on one side and a reference to a wife or sweetheart at home on the other side.
In addition to scrimshawed teeth, the Kobacker collection also included pie crimpers, swifts, thread winders and other utilitarian items. An extraordinarily detailed whale ivory pie crimper, which had the same elaborate reticulated design on all four sides of its square shaft, sold for $39,000, and a whale ivory crimper in the form of an outstretched hand sold for $20,400.
“Strong bidding came from all over the place – on the floor, on the phone and online,” said Bill Bourne,company vice president and head of Eldred’s Americana and marine art departments. “The scrimshaw market is very strong for the best and the middle-range pieces, and the lower-estimated lots are holding their own as well, probably bolstered by the strength of the top end of the market.”
Coming on the heels of the Thomas Mittler scrimshaw collection, which Eldred’s sold over three auction sessions in 2016 and 2017, the Kobacker collection marks the second major scrimshaw collection the firm has auctioned in as many years, positioning the company at the forefront of the maritime art market.
“We’re fortunate to handle two superb collections right after one another, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the results,” Bourne said. “And there’s quite a bit more from the Kobacker collection coming up in next summer’s marine sale, including many really good teeth with whaling scenes.”
Outside scrimshaw, other marine art highlights include a William Formby Halsall (Massachusetts, 1841-1919) scene of a ship navigating the ice off Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, which soared past its $1,5/2,500 estimate to finish at $10,200, and a William Pierce Stubbs (Maine/Massachusetts, 1842-1909) portrait of a brigantine, which more than doubled its estimate to sell for $7,200. A flurry of phone bidding on a Napoleonic prisoner-of-war miniature slant lid desk, made from carved bone panels and wood, drove the price well over its $1,5/2,000 estimate to $10,200.
The auction’s first session also included American native material, Chinese export, Oriental rugs, historic Americana and vintage toys. Three Northwest Coastal/Eskimo walrus ivory carvings that sold for a combined $16,200 on a total $2,9/4,000 estimate and a J.&E. Stevens Company Dentist cast iron mechanical bank that sold over estimate for $4,375 were some of the leading prices in those categories.
The session concluded with a 60-lot Massachusetts collection of Sandwich glass, which brought just shy of estimate. Top sellers, all bringing over estimate, were a pair of peacock green pressed glass vases that brought $2,040, an amethyst vase in the Twisted Loop pattern at $1,560 and a cobalt blue bowl in Petal pattern that realized $1,320.
Sporting and folk art dominated the auction’s second session, with many of the lots coming from the collection of Cap Vinal of Duxbury, Mass. Vinal, an avid sportsman, owned New England Tackle Company and authored a volume on decoy carver Joseph Lincoln. Two rare Lincoln decoys, an Eskimo curlew and a canvas-covered old squaw, which sold for $5,700 and $4,800, were among the top lots from the collection.
The best performing decoy in the sale, however, was a mallard hen by noted Louisiana carver Mitchel LaFrance, chased by multiple bidders to a final price of $14,400, far over its $3/5,000 presale estimate.
The decoy was from the New Orleans collection of Jimmy Hannemann and had his brand on the underside.
Twelve other decoys from the Hannemann collection also crossed the block, the majority of which sold within or above estimate. Louisiana decoys in general are rare, and ones with the Hannemann provenance are especially desirable, said Eric Mulak, head of Eldred’s sporting art department.
This sale marked the second sporting art auction Eldred’s has run in strategic partnership with Ted and Judy Harmon of Decoys Unlimited, Inc.
“Working with Ted has allowed us to expand our reach in the decoy market,” Mulak said. “We’re getting these Louisiana birds, as well as Illinois River and Canadian decoys. It’s wonderful to handle them, and to attract a new customer base because of it.”
Silver, furniture and paintings were offered during the auction’s third session, the top lot coming from a Theodore Rousseau (French, 1812-1867) landscape that brought $42,000. It was one of a handful of European items that snuck into this Americana sale. Another, a Dietz Edzard (German French, 1893-1963) portrait of a woman titled “At the Opera,” sold for $18,000, also one of the day’s top sellers. The Rousseau, which had a $10/15,000 estimate, had a well-traced provenance, said Joshua Eldred, president of the company.
“It’s already in the catalogue raisonné,” Eldred continued. “It’s a well-documented, well-preserved example of the artist’s work. We were happy to see it so well-received.” Bidding was primarily between two phone bidders and one on the floor.
An L.D. Eldred (Massachusetts, 1848-1921) scene of clam gathering in Fairhaven, Mass., sold for $26,400, the second highest price paid for a work by the artist. “Figural scenes by L.D. Eldred are fairly rare,”
Eldred said. “This one, from a Fairhaven collection with ties to the artist, was also in untouched original
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For further information, 508-385-3116 or www.eldreds.com.
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