Published: January 16, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy of William A. Smith, Inc.
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – By 10 am, when Bill Smith started his January 6 sale, the temperature outside had risen to four degrees below zero, a definite improvement to what they had been earlier. Smith started off by asking the crowd how low temperatures had been at their homes earlier that morning. The lowest from the area was 14 below zero, but someone from Lake Placid, N.Y., said, with the wind-chill factor, it was minus 44 at their home. Seemingly, the weather did not keep anyone from the sale, as the room was packed and at least two dozen folks were standing.
The sub-zero temperatures did not impact prices, as several items brought strong prices, though some categories, such as American furniture, had soft spots. Dealers said they were able to get some of the things they wanted, although the numerous retail buyers in the room took home some bargains. Smith started the sale with an announcement that almost all items were being sold without reserves. Internet bidding is not available at Smith sales, but several phones lines were in use and there were numerous absentee bids. Much of the material in the sale came from a home in Woodstock, Vt., which recently sold for $3.9 million. It had belonged to one of the founders of Friendly’s restaurants.
The top lot in the sale was a watercolor on paper depicting a slalom skier in a mountainous winter landscape by Dwight Shepler (American, 1905-1974) that sold for $7,360, which may have been a record for a watercolor by the artist. He was known for producing posters of ski areas, depicting downhill skiers in action and mountainous winter landscapes. One of his watercolors of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch is in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum. In keeping with the skiing theme, there were three posters for Dartmouth Winter Carnivals, one from 1939 and another from 1940, each selling for $805 to a phone bidder from Berkeley, Calif. The third one, dated 1941, brought $460. The buyers also liked an impressionist winter landscape with a covered bridge by Emile Gruppe (American, 1896-1978), which went for $5,750.
Some of the items in the sale had belonged to John P. Humes, who had been the American ambassador to Austria during the Nixon/Ford administration. The memoirs of his years in Austria were used as a textbook by the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. The lot included 25 leather bound albums with hundreds of documents, letters, scraps of paper and photographs relating to his service in Vienna. The lot brought $3,680. One document from the collection had been framed, a letter to Augustine Humes, signed by Woodrow Wilson in 1919, and it reached $1,380. Both lots went to the same buyer, who was in the room.
Reproductions of Eighteenth Century furniture made by Eldred Wheeler are considered to be of fine quality and not inexpensive. This sale included several pieces of Wheeler furniture, most of which sold quite reasonably considering the quality and condition. A Pilgrim-style two-over-three chest of drawers, decorated in the Pennsylvania Dutch style, brought $1,006, and two Queen Anne-style courting mirrors, which were sold as one lot, reached just $201. A pipe box in red paint went to a phone bidder for $184, and a corner chair sold together with a small one drawer stand earned $374. The highest price for the group, $2,070, was achieved by a two-piece lot, which included a Gilpin-style comb-back Windsor armchair and a William and Mary-style stretcher base tavern table.
Period American furniture generated mixed results. Smith is upfront with known condition issues when he sells furniture. A very attractive Connecticut Eighteenth Century Queen Anne bonnet top highboy sold for $3,220. He informed buyers that the legs had been restored and said that if that were not the case, the piece would probably sell in the $12,000 to $15,000 price range. He also sold an Eighteenth Century Pennsylvania Chippendale lowboy with a carved center drawer and fan carved knees for $2,300. Smith informed the bidders that the piece had repairs and the carving was most likely done in the Nineteenth Century. Again, a very good buy for a customer who wanted “the look.” A Federal period, eight-drawer inlaid walnut tall chest, circa 1790-1800, finished at $2,300.
A diminutive, mid-Nineteenth Century pine setback cupboard, with glass doors in the top section, surprised the auctioneer when it brought $4,025 from an absentee bidder. Perhaps one of the best bargains of the day was a Chippendale mahogany drop leaf table, with ball and claw feet, that ended up at only $288.
Perhaps one of the sleepers of the sale was a life-size folk art carving of a woman with bonnet. It was carved in the round from one piece of wood, had never been painted and sold for $288. A colorful, Twentieth Century folky carved and painted leopard, cataloged as from the school of Felipe Archuleta, reached $460.
Interspersed throughout the sale were several pieces of jewelry. The second lot of the day was an 18K gold scarab pin with articulated wings, set with diamonds and sapphires, which earned $863. Two bracelets did well; a 14K white gold bracelet with approximately 10 carats of diamonds finished at $5,463, while the other, also 14K white gold and set with sapphires of several colors, earned $1,610. A very attractive platinum, diamond and carved jade necklace with eight carved jade medallions, joined with 26 diamond links, reached $2,645. A carved jade pendant on a 26-inch, 14K yellow gold chain, attained $1,725.
Smith’s sales attract a loyal following of retail buyers, and there were plenty of good items ready to be placed immediately in any home. There were several Twentieth Century Oriental rugs, almost all in very good condition, of various sizes. An 11-foot-2-inch-by-6-foot-9-inch Bokhara sold for $1,115, a brightly colored room-size Heriz, 12 feet 4 inches by 9 feet 6 inches, finished at $3,450, and several runners sold in the $500 range. A large painted floor cloth by Ellen Eckworth with a Greek key pattern went to a phone bidder for $776. There were also a few leather covered chairs and couches. A large tufted red leather wing chair with matching ottoman, made by McKinley Leather for the Hickory Furniture Company, fetched $1,955.
Prior to the sale, long-time Smith colleague, Ken Labnon predicted that it would be a solid sale. “There probably aren’t any items that are going to bring big money – although you never know at an auction – but we have a good selection of clean furniture, paintings, jewelry, rugs and other things that will sell nicely under $5,000.” His assessment was correct. As people were leaving, most said they had been able to buy items that they were pleased with.
All prices quoted include the buyer’s premium. For more information, www.smithauction.com or 603-675-2549.
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