Published: May 18, 2016
Review by Rick Russack,
Catalog Photos Courtesy Boston Harbor Auctions
BOSTON, MASS. — If your interests include pond and ship models, marine art, navigating instruments, vintage diving equipment and other marine paraphernalia then you should have been at Larry Lannan’s Boston Harbor Auction Gallery April 30. There were more than 50 fine ship models, representing ships of every size, age and description, plus several pond models. Many were made by master model builders and were cased in fine, custom-made cabinets. The sale included marine paintings, maritime charts, ships’ lighting devices, telescopes, compasses, diving helmets, ships’ telegraphs and clocks.
Lannan’s father, a merchant seaman, started selling ship models and marine art from the basement of his home in 1967, so Lannan has been exposed to the business for most of his life. In 1977, he and his brother took over the family business and eventually his brother left to concentrate his efforts on a food service business in Boston’s Quincy Market. Today, Lannan’s gallery is in downtown Boston, and when not conducting auctions, the 6,000-square-foot gallery is packed with dozens of ship models of all sizes, ages and configurations, along with “all things nautical” as his catalog states. Everything is priced, brass items have been polished and all are ready to go.
Leading this fast-paced auction, which was conducted by Peter Coccoluto of Concord Hill Auctions, Lynn, Mass., was a portrait of the steam yacht Stranger by Elisha Taylor Baker (American, 1827–1890) that reached $17,450. The ship was depicted in New York harbor, cruising past the Execution Rocks lighthouse. The Stranger was one of the first large steam yachts built in the United States and was the sister ship of J.P. Morgan’s yacht Corsair. Both were built by William Cramp and Sons in 1880. Baker was not a prolific painter but his works are in several major maritime museums, including the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Mariner’s Museum. The Execution Rocks lighthouse in Long Island Sound was built in 1849 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The sale included numerous ship models, pond models and dioramas. A cased model of the American steam yacht Aphrodite brought $7,800. With the inlaid mahogany display case, on a custom made table, the model was 65 inches long. The three-masted yacht had been built and launched in Bath, Maine, in 1898. A detailed, cased model of the tugboat Brooklyn, with flags, a lifeboat, bollards, etc, sold for $2,400. A 46-inch model of the Sovereign of the Seas finished at $3,600. The famous clipper ship was built by Donald McKay of East Boston in 1850. At the time, it was the largest ship ever built, and was also the fastest ship afloat, setting a speed record in 1854 that stood for more than 100 years.
A 46-inch plank-on-frame model of the USS Constitution, rigged with a full set of sails, longboats, cannons on carriages, and more, realized $5,100. A model, with a great story behind it, was the 57-inch model of the yacht America, which won an 1851 race around the Isle of Wight in England. Subsequently, the prize for winning that race became known as the America’s Cup, but the full story of that race is worth reading about and can be found online. The America model sold for $5,700.
A detailed model of J.P. Morgan’s yacht, Corsair, more than 7 feet long, finished at $7,800. It had two masts, anchors, deck lights, five lifeboats with fittings and paneled deck houses. A cased model of the Corsair II Morgan’s second yacht, built in 1890, went out at $6,000. Morgan entertained lavishly on this yacht and his guests included Thomas Edison Teddy Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm. Made about 1853, a half model of a two-masted schooner with a tugboat astern, a lighthouse with jetty off the port bow and riding on a carved wooden sea earned $1,440. A 36-inch vintage pond model, with linen sails and a silvered presentation plaque indicating that it was a model of the sloop May 2nd, built in 1931, sold for $2,280. A Bassett-Lowke pond yacht, the Heather Dew, finished at $600.
Ships’ clocks and lights were popular. A Chelsea ship’s bell clock with an eight-day time-and-strike mechanism, mounted on a brass base, earned $1,200. A large Chelsea “Commander” ship’s bell clock, weighing 25 pounds, with a heavy brass ship’s wheel surround and raised numerals reached $1,680. A copper and brass pier beacon, 10 inches tall, with a Fresnel glass lens, reached $1,320. A pair of port and starboard lanterns made by the English firm of Meteorite, each with Fresnel lenses, made $1,560.
A variety of scientific and navigation instruments were sold. A Nineteenth Century surveyor’s theodolite, signed “Young, Philadelphia” achieved $1,800. A solid brass engine order telegraph, by Durkee Marine of Staten Island, N.Y., with porcelain faceplates, brought $2,700. A solid brass pelorus compass by John E. Hand and Son of Philadelphia went out for $420. It was not dated but the company was in business from 1865 to 2002. The Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia also owns an example. A mid-Nineteenth Century box compass, with an ornate dry compass card, in a fitted period case, went for $300. A brass library telescope on mahogany tripod, fitted with a geared focal tube and sighting scope, reached $1,800.
In addition to diving helmets, shoes and weights were offered. A 1944 US Navy Mark V deep water diving helmet, made by Desco, went for $6,600. The last diving helmet made by David Clark, a McCray-type helmet with a serial number of 13, sold for $4,500. An unusual homemade steel helmet, made about 1941, brought $1,200.
Some other interesting items were sold and some failed to sell. A silver Eighteenth Century perpetual calendar was passed as were three ship models made by Peter Ness. A limited edition collection of Courvoisier cognac bottles in eight unopened boxes designed by Russian-born French artist Romain de Tirtoff (Erte) (1892–1990), earned $5,520. The set was designed to show the various stages of making cognac. A chart based on an 1875 chart of Long Island Sound from Newport to New York by George Eldridge, reached $540. A pewter trophy for an 1873 regatta winner, Pair Oars, sold for $360. A bidder in the room bought several items for use as decorative accessories in his home and office. Dave Tomasi runs a marine and industrial supply company in Houston, Texas. He told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that he came up especially for the sale.
There were four groups of glass bottles that had been recovered from the wreck of the RMS Republic, a White Star steamship that had sunk after a collision with another ship off the coast of Nantucket in 1909. That wreck made history as it was the first time that a distress signal had been sent by radio and as a result, more than 1,500 lives were saved. The ship was salvaged in 1987 and the salvage efforts were widely broadcast on the evening news, Good Morning America and elsewhere.
The story reads more like fiction than fact. The extensive salvage effort was mounted because the ship was believed to have millions of dollars worth of gold, supposedly bound for Russian Tsar Nicholas II, but the gold was never found. The captain of the salvage effort, Martin Bayerle, was convicted of manslaughter in the death of his wife’s lover and after release from prison, wrote a book about the gold, the Tsar and the salvage efforts, The Tsar’s Treasure: The Sunken White Star Liner With a Billion Dollar Secret. Each group included four bottles, and each lot sold around $200.
After the sale, Larry Lannan said that he believed the sale went well. “The biggest surprise of the day was the strength of the diving helmets. The Peter Ness models didn’t sell and we’ll be offering those for private sales. They’re exceptional models. The guy was a fantastic model maker and his work is in several major museums. I’m sure they’ll find a home. The ships’ lanterns and lighting did well. The painting of the Stranger will be going to a guy who lives just a couple of miles from the Execution Rocks lighthouse and it’s always nice when stuff like that goes where it will really be appreciated. We have a good diving collection coming up for our September sale, and some other interesting and unusual things. I’m looking forward to that.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For more information, www.bostonharborauctions.com or 617-451-2650.
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