Published: May 31, 2016
Review and Photos By Laura Beach
NEW BEDFORD, MASS. — For lovers of things seafaring, the Nautical Antiques Show has it all: an alluring mix of the affordable and the august offered by top specialist dealers, intellectually satisfying companion programs, all in the sublime venue of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. What’s not to like?
The show returned to New Bedford on Friday, May 13, for its seventh year. Blink and you missed it. The market opened at noon and closed at 5 pm, when the main event, the Scrimshaw Weekend, got underway. The 17-exhibitor fair moved this year from the museum’s heavily trafficked lobby to the relative remove of the upper level Harbor View Gallery, where the slightly smaller space necessitated two fewer dealers.
As might be guessed, scrimshaw was the main course. Marine arts dealer Alan Granby of Hyannis Port, Mass., featured a famous tooth from a storied group. Signed “Frederick Myrick” and dated “Decem 28, 1828,” Granby’s Susan’s Tooth once belonged to Everett Crosby, who published it in the 1950s, and subsequently to Barbara Johnson. It is engraved with 15 different elements, which reoccur in different combinations on 37 known Myrick teeth, making it something of a Rosetta Stone for the group. It was the first tooth to bring more than $100,000 at auction in September 1982, the year it graced the cover of Sotheby’s catalog, The Barbara Johnson Whaling Collection, Part II, and Granby has owned it more than once.
Dealers say the ongoing legislative skirmish over the sale of antique elephant ivory has not been helpful to the scrimshaw trade, however distinct and legal the latter is. No such concerns affect the sale of nautical instruments, tools, whaling logbooks, ship models, paintings and works on paper, plentifully in supply here. Sales were excellent for many dealers. Requesting anonymity, one exhibitor said he did $35,000 worth of business, mostly with colleagues.
“I had a very good show both in volume and variety,” said co-organizer Richard Donnelly of Richard’s Antiques and Art of Barrington, R.I. “For early admission, attendance was out the door. The dealers for the most part liked the Harbor View Gallery. We expect to be back here next year.” The show’s other coordinator, Sanford Moss of Sandy’s Tools in Westport, Mass., also got off to a good start by selling a whaling ship’s logbook.
Greg Gibson of Ten Pound Island Books, Gloucester, Mass., offered a rare broadside. The framed work lists whaling ships and their owners in New London, Conn., in 1842. Contemporary residents will recognize among the names Joseph Lawrence, Lyman Allen and Thomas Fitch.
Sculpture is Ryan Cooper’s strong suit. The Yarmouth Port, Mass., dealer featured a figurehead fragment salvaged from the Success, a British convict ship built in 1840 and destroyed by fire in 1946. The famous vessel toured United States ports in the early Twentieth Century. Cooper also retailed a carved cathead star from the USS Hartford, one of pair of wooden stars replaced by bronze caps after the Civil War, and sold a paddlebox carved with the Rhode Island state seal.
“I’m not a marine arts specialist,” said Alan Stone, a private dealer in master prints and drawings who collectors know from the Winter Antiques Show and other top events. A love of marine-themed works and a house in nearby South Dartmouth, Mass., tempted Stone to set up at the museum, where his inventory ranged from a classical view of Neptune on his chariot by the Seventeenth Century German artist Christoph Ludwig Agricola to a large, crisp industrial engraving of the ship The Great Eastern, published in 1864.
One Scrimshaw Weekend highlight is Andrew Jacobson’s annual market report, a review of what sold and for how much over the past year. The well-liked dealer also keeps his colleagues abreast of legislative developments in the field. Jacobson sold a large, impressionistic view of New Bedford’s inner harbor by the desirable local artist Clifford Warren Ashley (1881–1947), a marine painter, pioneering scrimshaw collector, early student of the whaling industry and author of The Ashley Book of Knots. In 1973, New Bedford Whaling Museum and the Brandywine River Museum co-organized a joint display of Ashley’s work. The top auction price for an Ashley painting is $50,000, logged by Northeast Auctions in 2005.
Scrimshaw Weekend highlights included the talks “New Insights Into The World of The Naval Engagement Artist” by the Honorable Paul E. Vardeman and “Building A Collection: Reflection of A Seasoned Collector” by Max N. Berry, Esq. On Sunday, participants studied seldom-displayed scrimshaw from the museum’s collection. “We had somewhere between 150 and 200 pieces, which attendees got to study in detail. In a group, you start putting the clues together regarding dates, geography and even artist’s names. That’s how everyone learns,” said Donnelly.
“The talks were interesting and we saw a few new people,” said Nina Hellman. The longtime Nantucket dealer in marine antiques is looking ahead to the Antiques Council’s Nantucket Summer Antiques Show, which this year will be August 12–15 at the Nantucket Boys and Girls Club, its new charity sponsor.
“The Nautical Antiques Show is the only event of its kind in the country. Nearly every major dealer is here,” said Andy Jacobson, offering a succinct reason for everyone interested in the subject to pencil it into next year’s calendar.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum is at 8 Johnny Cake Hill. For further information, www.whalingmuseum.org or 508-997-0046.
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