Published: November 19, 2019
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Skinner, Inc
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – The American Furniture & Decorative Art sale at Skinner Inc, on Saturday and Sunday, November 2-3 featured seven single-owner sections and property consigned by various owners that amounted to 730 lots. The sale achieved a total of approximately $2.1 million, with more than 91 percent of the lots selling. A 736-lot internet-only sale wrapped up the evening of Tuesday, October 5, for an additional $415,893, with more than 90 percent of those lots selling. By the time the dust settled, the combined total for the three-day sale was $2.53 million, with 42 percent of the lots selling to bidders online, buyers in the room taking 32 percent of the lots, 24 percent going to the phone lines and the remaining two percent going to absentee bids.
A Halloween storm that blew through New England closed the gallery on Friday, November 1, but speaking with Antiques and The Arts Weekly by phone after the sale, department director Stephen Fletcher said, “It was a source of frustration, but in the end, I don’t think it made an appreciable difference. We are very happy overall.”
The first day of sales featured two single-owner collections characterized by early pieces with old surface, much of it extensively researched and curated. Nearly 65 lots of primarily Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century New England painted furniture, burl bowls and smalls from the collection of Bill McKeever of Urbana, Ohio, got the ball rolling. Every lot in McKeever’s collection sold, with most lots bringing expected results. Among surprises in the group were a red-brown painted open hanging cupboard estimated at $800-$1,200 that realized $7,380 and several pieces of burl, including an oval burl bowl with high cut out handles that brought nearly ten times its estimate to finish at $11,070.
Pamela and Brian Ehrlich of Mystic, Conn., had largely focused their collecting on pieces from New London County, and a selection of nearly 100 lots followed McKeever’s collection across the block. The top lot from the Ehrlich’s collection was a circa 1826 two-sided painted “Canal Hotel” tavern sign from Port Jervis, N.Y., that had provenance to both Marguerite Riordan and Fred Giampietro. Woodbury, Conn.,-based folk art dealer, David A. Schorsch, bidding on the phone, showed his determination for the sign and won the lot for $171,000. “It is one of the finest tavern signs in private hands,” said Schorsch, who confirmed he was buying it for a client.
A tiger maple tall case clock with engraved brass dial made by Reuben Ingraham and John Avery, Plainfield, Conn., was also from the Ehrlich collection, and had been extensively published. In hindsight, the $25/35,000 estimate was modest, and it sold for $123,000. Fletcher was not at liberty to divulge who had bought it, saying only “you will see it again.”
When asked about the Ehrlich collection, Fletcher said, “They put so much effort into provenance and research and saw increasingly as they collected that these things spoke to each other. I talked to Brian (Ehrlich), who said what things brought is representative of the current market.”
The top lot of the sale came about halfway through the first day, part of approximately 175 lots of property consigned by various owners that followed the McKeever and Ehrlich collections.
The coastal Massachusetts Chippendale carved mahogany reverse serpentine chest of drawers commanded a comfortable lead, bringing $291,000 from a phone bidder. The chest, which had been described in a 1964 letter from Israel Sack to its then-owner as “the finest chest of its type,’ carried the heftiest estimate in the sale ($50/100,000) but did not disappoint. “One person said, ‘that’s an old-fashioned price,'” recalled Fletcher, who went on to say that the piece was the only such one known to combine its distinctive features – a reverse serpentine form, blocked and reeded ends, ball and claw feet and a drop pendant – with superior craftsmanship and retains not only its original brasses but a history of its emergence onto the market. “It was exciting to note that there is still life out there for great pieces.”
Additional highlights from the section were a paint-decorated pine box with drawer attributed to Robert Crosman of Taunton, Mass., that more than doubled its high estimate to close at $52,275; a Federal mahogany and satinwood inlaid two-part dining table from Massachusetts that extended to $13,530; and a fan-carved cherrywood slant lid desk attributed to Hartford, Conn., that had provenance to the Paul Koda collection that more than doubled its low estimate to finish at $7,995.
Generally speaking, fine art lots did well. Jonathan Orne Johnson Frost’s “A Street Scene in Marblehead,” closed at $23,370, just shy of its high estimate. Charming paintings of children are usually crowd pleasers and a pair of portraits of Theodore and Ann Aliza Collins nearly doubled its low estimate to finish at $15,990.
The first day featured a grouping of maritime decorative lots and nautical paintings, including a few China Trade pictures. Interest in the ship paintings was mixed. A portrait of the clipper ship Sancho Panza off Hong Kong that started the section failed to find a buyer at $15/25,000 but the rest of the section seemed to rebound. While it was not specifically designated as such in the catalog, Fletcher confirmed that much of the nautical antiques and maritime paintings were from the estate of dealer Justin “Bud” Lyman Cobb III.
The cover lot – a copper and zinc steam pumper weathervane by Cushing & White – stalled in the room, as did another horse and sulky weathervane, though the other examples in the sale generally performed to expectation. Perhaps it was a matter of size? Both of the vanes that did not sell were longer than 40 inches, which requires display space on the part of the potential buyer. Recent Americana auctions at other houses have demonstrated a limited audience for large scale works and Fletcher said it best when he said, “smalls are big.”
Skinner had scheduled three single-owner collections, two of which from Ohio, to sell on Sunday, November 3. Commenting on the timing of the sales, Fletcher said “the things in those collections visually worked well together, they almost looked like they came out of the same collection. The things that fared very well were lovely colorful objects, which people responded to.” When asked if Skinner had attracted bidders from Ohio, Fletcher affirmed it, saying not only had they received a lot of activity from that area but that some things were going back to Ohio or Pennsylvania.
The largest single-owner grouping in Sunday’s sale, 206 lots of formal and painted furniture, smalls, fraktur, samplers, ceramics and metal ware, were from the Delaware, Ohio, collection of Tom and Carolyn Porter. Their collection got off to a dynamic start just a few lots in, when a paint-decorated thread box from the Deyerle collection spun past its $1,5/2,500 estimate to wind down at $28,290. A small paint-decorated poplar single-drawer cupboard fetched $6,765, nearly the same ratio of estimate to price realized as a paint-decorated dome top box that brought $14,760. Other surprises among the Porter collection were a Chinese carved, painted and gilt oval plaque centering an eagle surrounded by landscape vignettes that brought $11,685 and a pearlware jug that made $7,995.
Following the Porter collection was the last sizeable collection to cross the block, that of the late dealer, Pam Boynton, who had directed her daughter, Martha, to sell her collection through Skinner. Boynton’s nearly 125-lot collection featured what she was best known for: painted furniture, burl and treenware, needlework, folk paintings, drawings and watercolors, boxes, metal wares, baskets and weathervanes. Highlights from Boynton’s collection included a watercolor memorial for Reubens Peale ($6,150); a white-painted wirework basket of miniature velvet fruit that made nearly ten times its low estimate, finishing at $7,380 against an estimate of $800-$1,200 and a prancing horse weathervane that brought the top weathervane price in the sale: $6,150.
Nearly 60 lots from Hudson, Ohio, collector August Knapp, were among the last lots in the sale. It is often the case that lots toward the end of the sale do not fetch as much as lots offered earlier in the sale but several lots proved that was not the case in this sale. A Lafayette 1825 pierced tin lantern quadrupled expectations to bring $6,150, a paint-decorated tulip poplar blanket chest attributed to Washington County, Penn., that had been included in an exhibition on American painted and decorated furniture at the Western Reserve Historical Society in the 1980s almost tripled its high estimate to sell for $14,760. Another painted blanket chest, this one attributed to the Long Family of Ada, Hardin County, Ohio, and related to one from the Don and Faye Walters collection, closed out at $27,060, more than double its high estimate.
The sale closed with a baker’s dozen lots from an unidentified Maryland private collection that all found buyers at generally unsurprising prices and was led by an unattributed watercolor, pen and ink on paper portrait of a farmstead that had been in the collection of Charles Sterling. It brought $3,690, more than four times its low estimate.
Leading the online offerings was a miniature Queen Anne-style carved walnut high chest of drawers from the collection of Carolyn and Tom Porter. It may have been miniature, but it brought a higher price than many full-size highboys bring these days: $9,225 against a very reasonable $800-$1,200 estimate. A collection of nearly 50 kugel ornaments from the Porter collection appealed to pre-holiday buyers, who saw a good thing at $1,5/2,500 but ultimately had to pony up $8,610 for the lot. Rounding out the leaderboard was a portrait of the Schooner Clara Goodwin signed W.P. Stubbs. It more than doubled its high estimate to finish at $7,380.
All prices quoted include buyer’s premium as cited by Skinner, Inc.
A Country Americana sale will take place November 21 in Marlborough, with previews November 19-21.
Skinner Marlborough is at 274 Cedar Hill Street. For more information, www.skinnerinc.com or 617-350-5400.
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