Published: September 1, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Skinner Inc.
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – Skinner’s annual offering of Shaker material coalesced in a boutique online sale August 11-20 as the firm sold 185 lots to the highest bidder, resulting in $177,000 in gross sales and a 92 percent sell through by lot. The majority of the material was pulled from two collections, one in Bloomfield, Conn., and the other in upstate New York.
The sale was separated from the firm’s August Americana and Kolar collection auctions. While plenty of crossover exists between general Americana and Shaker material, Skinner’s partner and executive vice president Stephen Fletcher said that splitting them apart afforded certain advantages in the era of digital auctions.
“It gives these collections an identity,” Fletcher related, pointing to the separate catalog and the distinct advantage of not appearing alongside 1,000 other lots at the same time. The boutique sale is becoming more common in the digital age as material is given the spotlight without the overhead of a primetime auction.
“Things with good color and nice surface did well,” Fletcher said. “Shaker collectors, as much as the Shakers themselves, are attracted to perfection. When they see a piece that is pristine and clean, it brings substantially more money.”
The Bloomfield, Conn., consignor was a lifetime collector who had purchased what she could afford from dealers throughout New England. She indexed her collection on cards, writing similar forms she found in Shaker collecting books, where she purchased the pieces and the applicable dates.
Among the top lots were two built-in case pieces. The top was governed by a yellow-painted cupboard over drawers from either Hancock, Mass., or New Lebanon, N.Y., circa 1840, that sold for $9,375. The piece was inscribed to the bottom “[N/W]CB March 21, 1840” and had provenance to Ed Clerk, Avis Howells, the Strauss Collection and The Rathbun Gallery. Coming in at $5,938 was a butternut chest of ten drawers that was a built-in piece in the trustee’s house at the Enfield community. It had been recovered from the house following a fire and had provenance to dealer Hazel Hayes.
Smalls sold particularly well, including the very small: a $6,875 result for a bittersweet painted three-finger oval pantry box in original surface and measuring 2 inches high by 5¼ inches wide. The auction house believed a 6½-inch-long putty white-painted and carved dipper to be from New York or New England, circa 1830-50, and it brought $5,313.
Selling for $4,063 on a $500 estimate was a cherry wall shelf with iron hogscraper candlestick from Hancock, Mass. Both of the items were used in the meeting house in Hancock and had come by means of the Church family with provenance to dealer Richard Rasso. This was the Bloomfield collector’s favorite item in the collection.
Bidders also took a liking to a 9-inch diameter yellow-painted pine Sister’s pail, which sold for $5,000. It was signed on the bottom “M*C.” and inscribed in pencil “Martha Crooker 1853.” The auction house noted, “Sister Martha Crooker (1825-1895) gathered into the Church Family at Canterbury on June 17, 1886, and was a nurse. She has prior been a Sister at the Enfield community.” The pail had provenance from the Priscilla Archibald estate.
Fletcher noted that many people made appointments to come view the material, while others were assuaged by the auction house’s condition reports and images.
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