Published: March 12, 2002
By Laura Beach
BOLTON, MASS. – An old-time collection of nautical art and antiques and locally made clocks and weathervanes, all from the estate of the late Concord, Mass., collector Edward B. Thomas, added handsomely to Skinner’s February 24 auction of American Furniture and Decorative Arts.
The marathon, 842-lot sale began at 10 am and finished in eight hours, grossing $2,546,000. Prices remained solid to the very end, spiking on the day’s most notable rdf_Descriptions. Highlights included a primitive portrait of a little girl by Massachusetts painter Robert Peckham, which sold to a phone bidder for $182,000 including premium; American painter William Bradford’s portrait of the whaling ship Gay Head, which went to a private collector seated in the room for $94,000; and a North Shore, Mass., slant-front desk, was knocked down to an absentee bidder for $30,550. In between, hundreds of choice accessories and folk art, ranging from Liverpool pottery to needlework pictures, tempted bidders.
Seated together near the front of the room, consultants Jonathan Fairbanks and Josh Eldred bid on dozens of lots. The duo claimed 25 nautical rdf_Descriptions plus 15 miscellaneous examples of furniture and decorative arts for two accounts. Their client for the ship’s portraits, it was later revealed, was Graham Arader, the well-known specialist in prints, watercolors and other works on paper. “Graham called me the night before the sale and I rushed over to look at the pictures,” Fairbanks confided. “I was surprised, but Graham is always full of surprises.”
The genial Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, curator emeritus and Eldred, a third-generation antiques expert who grew up working in his family’s Cape Cod auction house, have had an informal partnership for nearly two years. Their friendship developed while both were on staff at Antiques America, the now-defunct Web site.
“Our first big venture together was when we purchased $1.2 million worth of objects from the Livingston sale at Northeast Auction,” recalled Eldred, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., with his wife, Julie, fine arts editor at the Catalogue of Antiques and Fine Art. Fairbanks, who lives in Westwood, is the magazine’s editor-at-large and a painter with works currently on display at Haley & Steele in Boston.
Estate of Edward Thomas
It took Skinner a few hours to sell what Thomas had devoted a lifetime to collecting. A boyhood gift of a watercolor of a square-rigged sailing ship inspired Thomas’ long journey. With his wife, Emilie, the Massachusetts native gathered ship’s pictures, clocks, Liverpool pottery, weathervanes and related objects. The couple began collecting in the 1940s, about the time that they built a replica of a 1769 saltbox house in Concord, Mass., using antique building materials. After Thomas died in 2000, his heirs ordered most of his collection sold. The 207 lots offered at Skinner on Sunday realized $850,000.
From the early 1970s, Thomas was a regular at the auction house built by his late friend, Robert Skinner. Remembering the collector fondly, Skinner director and auctioneer Stephen Fletcher noted Thomas’s teasing humor and passionate affection for antiques. “Ted talked about ship pictures with tremendous knowledge and depth. He was a real student of history who remembered every detail. He was particularly interested in Massachusetts and New Hampshire artifacts. He was very much like Malcolm Burroughs, whose property we sold a year ago. They were contemporaries and fierce rivals who vied over half a century.”
Both were “old-fashioned” collectors, said Fletcher, who enjoyed less-than-perfect objects for what they were, and who were less concerned with what they weren’t. “A picture with condition problems was okay if it illustrated a ship whose history Ted was interested in,” the auctioneer explained.
Thomas sunk his fortune into an armada of vessels, the most valuable of which were painted in oils on canvas. In addition to the Bradford, top-selling portraits, all knocked down to Fairbanks, included Henry Collins’ “Portrait of the British Ship Lady Gordon Entering Liverpool Harbor” $52,875; Miles Walters’ “The American Packet Ship Hudson Entering Dover,” $52,875; Robert Salmon’s “The Snow Sophia Off Grenock,” $38,188; and William Howard Yorke’s “The American Clipper Ship Rafael,” $21,150.
“My favorite painting was the Salmon,” Fairbanks said later. “You just don’t know when you’ll get the chance to buy another. One of the greatest surprises was the Lucius Briggs that we bought for $1,400. That was a real buy. There were some very wonderful Roux, and Joseph Honore Maxime Pellegrin, which I hadn’t known before.”
Another favorite was Guiseppe Fedi’s boldly drawn watercolor, gouache, and pen and ink portrait of the Palladium of Boston, a stately looking ship flying American flags. The early Nineteenth Century portrait sold to a phone bidder for $16,450. Also of note were two watercolors by British painter Robert Dodd of East Indiamen, homeward and outward bound. Once again, they went to the Fairbanks-Eldred team, for $14,100.
China Trade pictures included four exquisitely detailed circa 1820 paintings on copper, each 4 1/2 by 6 inches, depicting major early Nineteenth Century Asian ports. The quartet sold to an absentee bidder for a reasonable $32,250 ($25/25,000). Another export work was “The Clipper Ship Pilgrim in Chinese Waters.” It crossed the block at $11,750.
Other ship’s pictures were on china. Among several dozen pieces of Liverpool pottery, highlights included a creamware bowl showing the American sailing vessel Apollo, $5,875; a creamware jug printed with a two-masted American sailing ship and an American eagle, $2,468; and a jug inscribed “Tom Truelove Going To Sea,” $646.
Thomas owned tall clocks from Lexington and Concord; banjo clocks from Nashua, Concord and Boston; and even a Massachusetts shelf clock by L. Curtis of Concord, $7,638. Best sellers included a Concord tall-case clock by Daniel Munroe, $17,625, and, interestingly, a reproduction banjo clock made by T.E. Burleigh, Jr., $9,400.
Rounding out the Thomas assemblage were Massachusetts weathervanes: $12,925 was paid for a J. Howard & Company copper and zinc horse. The same amount was paid for a Harris & Son leaping stag, large but regilded.
Following the Thomas collection, Skinner offered nearly 650 lots drawn from, among others, the Hathaway Shirt Corporate Collection; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.
Interest centered on an unframed and unrestored early Nineteenth Century portrait, a charming subject of a young girl in a red dress, made more desirable by striking foreshortening and the painter’s stark rendition of the interior in which the child is shown. In contrast to the unornamented interior is the detailed landscape beyond two red-curtained windows. “It’s a terrific picture,” said Boston dealer Stephen Score, who has an excellent eye for such works. “I love the dramatic manipulation of perspective and scale.”
Attributed to Robert Peckham, a Massachusetts clergyman who was an ornamental and house painter before concentrating on portraiture after 1828, the painting was recently consigned by a family in whose possession it had been for the past century.
Estimated at $15/25,000, the canvas drew bids from several phones, Josh Eldred, and underbidder Elliott Snyder before selling to the phone for $182,000. Fletcher believes the price to be a record for a naive portrait at Skinner. From the same consignor came a New Hampshire chest-on-chest with idiosyncratic shell carvings, bandy legs and ball-and-claw feet, $18,800; and a Boston d-form inlaid mahogany card table, a good buy at $2,115.
Other paintings of note included “Portrait of a Large Tiger Cat with Yellow Eyes,” $5,875; “Always Ready to Lay Down Their Lives for Others,” an unsigned, 8 1/2-foot long primitive work attributed to Jonathan Orne Johnson Frost, depicting two Marblehead, Mass., fire companies, passed at $24,000; and a portrait of twin boys with fishing rods attributed to Joseph Chandler, $18,800. Rare and early, an 1801 aquatint of Georgetown and the District of Columbia, ex-collection of Warnaco Corporation, fetched $17,625.
Unusual pieces of furniture in good condition attracted attention. An octagonal cellaret, a rare Baltimore form, sold to a dealer for $28,200; a one-drawer stand painted yellow with red and green floral decoration was a surprise hit at $27,025; a Connecticut cherry chest of drawers with overhanging top, ropetwist quarter columns, and claw-and-ball feet sold to Daria of Woodbury for $9,400; and a Colchester, Conn. serpentine-front chest of drawers went to a phone bidder for $23,500.
One of the most interesting pieces of furniture was a tiger maple and cherry high chest of drawers thought to have been made by Abram Utter of Hopkinton, R.I., circa 1730-60. The transitional work, which sold to a dealer for $29,375, combines a William and Mary style skirt with Queen Anne legs. From the same consignor came a Rhode Island desk-and-bookcase, $9,400; two baskets; and a silkwork memorial, $4,700, commemorating a Groton, Conn. woman.
Previewing Skinner’s most recent sale, Massachusetts dealer Paul Madden came across an rdf_Description he hadn’t seen for many years: a Chippendale slant-lid desk made of very dense mahogany. Distinguished by a straight front; sophisticated interior; and a prominent bracket base with an unusual cut-out skirt and feet, it is most likely a Salem piece. One of three by the same maker that Stephen Fletcher has sold over the years, the desk brought $30,550 from an absentee bidder.
Skinner’s healthy sales total was boosted by a hike in its buyer’s premium, instituted late last year. The firm now charges 17 1/2 percent on the first $80,000, up from 15 percent on the first $50,000. Sotheby’s and Christie’s increased their premiums in 2000. Fletcher said rising costs, particularly for insurance, necessitated the rise.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm