Published: September 4, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos By Rick Russack
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – If you were wondering how Skinner’s August 12-13 sale did, consider that the first page of the catalog for the first day had 13 lots and the combined high estimate of the those lots was $6,450. The 13 lots sold for $22,138. It was a strong sale throughout, comprising collections put together over many years by astute, well-known collectors, including Gail and Don Piatt, Arthur and Sybil Kern, Jonathan Rickard, Ronnie Newman and others. The provenance for many of the items in each collection included several of the top dealers and well-known earlier collections. In many instances, estimates proved to be meaningless.
Day one was topped by a mid-Eighteenth Century overmantel from the Kern collection that sold for $67,650. Day two was led by a superb polychrome game board, which sold for $25,830. There was strength in every category: country woodenware, formal American furniture, grain-painted furniture, samplers, folk paintings by the well-known masters, hooked rugs, game boards, mocha, family records, miniature portraits, weathervanes and more.
There was a large crowd in the salesroom for the first day of the sale, which included the Piatt and Kern collections. Numerous phone lines were in use, and online bidding was available on two platforms. There were also more than 600 additional lots sold in an online-only segment. Including the online-only lots, the sale totaled more than $2.7 million.
The event started with 253 lots from the Piatt collection, which totaled $276,417. Gail and Don Piatt are well known in New England and exhibited at the New Hampshire Antiques Dealers show for more than 35 years. They have decided that the time has come to downsize, while obviously loving items with original painted surfaces, be it miniature pieces of woodenware, early lighting devices or painted furniture. Their collection included carefully selected paintings, ceramics and an outstanding group of New Hampshire samplers. The sale began with several lots of miniatures: furniture, redware, lighting, etc. The second lot sold included eight miniature kitchen items – two redware jars, a turned mortar and pestle, a carved trencher and more. The lot was estimated at $500 but sold for $3,321. A few lots later, a miniature iron Betty lamp and trammel, estimated at $600, brought $3,198. Of the first 100 lots, only two were passed. It was that sort of day. An Eighteenth Century miniature slant-lid desk, 16 inches high on ball turned feet and in old red paint, was the highest priced item in the Piatt collection, finishing at $7,995.
The Piatts particularly liked items made in New Hampshire, and their collection included 13 New Hampshire samplers. An 1826 example made by Caroline B. Sherburne, Portsmouth, topped the group. It included seven alphanumeric rows, two Federal period houses, an animal called a “cameleopard” (which is really a giraffe), a lion, trees and more. It identifies the teacher – “Wrought at E. Robinson’s School” – who is also named on an 1829 sampler at Strawbery Banke. A phone bidder paid $4,305. Other samplers came from much smaller towns, including Goffstown, Rye, Lebanon, Hampton, Brentwood and others. Another Portsmouth example, this one made by Ruhamah Dearborn, dated 1819, had two houses, a barn, a fence and more. It went to a left bid at $3,690.
A few days after the sale, Gail Piatt said, “We’re happy Skinner customers. They did all they could to make the whole experience as stress-free as possible. We were astounded by some of the prices, like the miniatures, and we were a little disappointed with others. But overall, the bottom line was fine. It’s time for us to downsize and we wanted to make it simple for our children. They were able to have some of the pieces that they grew up with and really liked, so everything worked out nicely.”
Following the Piatt collection, the sale continued with more than 200 lots from Part I of the American folk art collection of the late Arthur and Sybil Kern, which grossed $1.2 million. Many of the items had been off the market for years, and top lots routinely exceeded estimates. The Kerns were dedicated collectors and students of American folk painting, and their research added much to the body of knowledge in that field. They published numerous articles on their researches, and items from their collections were included in several exhibitions.
A well-known overmantel with leaping stags led the collection, realizing $67,650, more than twice its estimate. It had been removed from a Framingham, Mass., house in 1840. It’s illustrated and discussed in Nina Fletcher Little’s American Decorative Wall Painting 1700-1850 and was included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of wall paintings in 1952-53. A colorful tree and flower painted fireboard, which had originally been discovered in the attic of a home in Franklin, Mass., went to a phone bidder for $55,350, also more than twice its estimate. More than tripling its estimate, an artist’s crayon and pencil on paper by Fritz Vogt (1842-1900) depicting the “Residence of Mrs Mary E. Failing, Fort Point, N.Y.,” went for $46,125.
Woodbury, Conn., dealer David Schorsch bought several of the choice folk paintings in the collection, including an unsigned portrait of a small boy in a red dress holding a rattle by Erastus Salisbury Field (circa 1805-1900). It had been included in Mary Black’s exhibition catalog of Field’s work and Schorsch paid $43,050. He also bought back, for a total of more than $65,000, three watercolors by James R. Osborne, a folk painter active in the Portland, Maine, area in the early 1830s, which he had sold to the Kerns in the 1990s. One was a portrait of a husband and wife, signed and dated “J. Osborne, 1830” and inscribed on the back panel “Hannah Libby.” He paid $45,510 for this one. He also bought “Farmers Arms” which was inscribed on the back “Ebenr Libby 1831” for $9,840 and an unusual one depicting two ships titled “Boxer and Enterprise,” also inscribed as above, for which he paid $12,300. During the War of 1812, in a battle off the coast of Maine, the USS Enterprise defeated the Royal Navy HMS Boxer. The Kerns did the original research on Osborne and published their research in the summer 1994 issue of Folk Art magazine. Schorsch said that there are only six or seven watercolors known by Osborne. “I’m delighted to get these back,” he said. “I think I sold them for around $15,000 at the time. That’s where the market was then, and this is where it’s at now.”
The Kern collection included works by nearly all the major folk artists, in addition to those mentioned above. There were several by Rufus Porter, Ruth Whittier Shute, Winthrop Chandler and several watercolors by Jane A. Davis (1821-1855), another artist that the Kerns researched extensively. Her works are very distinctive; an unsigned pair of portraits of George and Martha Upton, estimated at $6,000, sold for $31,980. A group of five small portraits by the same artist of various members of the Bowen family sold for $19,680. The Kerns published their research in “J.A. Davis: Identity Reviewed,” in The Clarion, summer 1991, and also published other articles about the artist, and her works were exhibited at the Bennington Museum in 2008. There were a number of family records in the collection. A colorful example drawn by William Murray, Vermont, 1806, depicted a large central heart inscribed with the birth and marriage dates of John A. Lipe and Elizabeth Lambert, surrounded by smaller hearts with the dates of their ten children, and images representing two of the children. It was signed and dated 1806 and it sold for $33,210. An unsigned pair of Rufus Hathaway portraits of Joshua and Ruth Winsor by Rufus Hathaway went to Schorsch for $39,975.
After the sale, Schorsch said, “There was some great stuff, especially in the Kern collection. I bought ten lots and underbid about a dozen more. They were discerning collectors, buying with multiple thoughts in mind. Some of their purchases had been made because of the aesthetic quality of the work, and some had been bought to further their academic research. The results of the sale indicate that the market differentiated between the two and responded accordingly. I thought the prices were very reasonable, considering the quality of the material.”
There was more folk art. The second day of the sale included hooked rugs, weathervanes, painted furniture and more. Ronnie Newman is a well-known collector who loved hooked rugs and embroidered footstools. He is now in an assisted living facility and decided the time had come to share his collection with others. Leading the selection was an embroidered townscape panel that depicted a variety of urban and rural buildings and houses, farm animals, a carriage and a trolley against a damask background. It was 57 inches wide and sold for $14,760, against an estimate of $1,200. A catalog of Newman’s rugs identified the scene as Grand Isle, Vt. A brightly colored, early yarn-sewn rug depicting a folky tiger in a landscape reached $8,610. A selection of footstools with embroidered tops ranged in price from $100 to $800, plus buyer’s premium. Weathervanes included an exceptional large double-wheel horse and sulky example attributed to Fiske, New York, circa 1865-75, which sold for $18,450. It had a full-body molded copper running horse with zinc head and a full-body molded copper driver seated on an iron four-wheeled sulky. There were two examples by A.L. Jewell, Waltham, Mass. Selling for $13,530 was a molded and sheet copper painted horse and groom example. Another Jewell piece, a molded copper and cast zinc “Horse Jumping Through Hoop,” brought $12,300.
Jonathan Rickard is now 76 years old and has been collecting and writing about mocha for more than 40 years. Although he has been selling pieces from his collection for the last few years, he continues to buy. He thought that two of the pieces of his that were in this sale were of particular interest. One, a pearlware slip-decorated jug he considered to be the best graphically decorated jug he ever owned, sold over estimate for $3,690. He also considered a pitcher and basin (not a bowl as he pointed out) to be a rare example as few pitchers are found with basins of matching decoration. It sold just about at the estimate, for $2,706. Rickard said, “It’s appropriate that Skinner is selling pieces from my collection now since I bought my very first piece at Skinner’s in Bolton in the 1960s.”
Rickard and the late Don Carpentier were good friends and often traveled to England and elsewhere studying and collecting mocha and related wares. Carpentier, who died a few years ago, was well known for reproducing (and properly marking) mocha and other wares of the period. The online-only portion of the auction included a number of his pieces, nearly all of which sold above the estimates. Twelve molded dot, diaper and basketweave tortoiseshell-glazed soup plates went out for $2,214, and 12 green feather-edge creamware chargers with swirled slip decoration brought $2,460. All had been made earlier in this century.
A few days after the sale, Steve Fletcher, Skinner’s executive vice president, commented, “Things went very well. We had more than 1,000 bidders for the sale – not bids – bidders. I thought that was an impressive number. The market these days is selective and that’s the way it should be. There were surprises both high and low. The Osbornes were special and they brought what they should have. The miniatures in the Piatt collection were a surprise but maybe that shouldn’t have surprised me. Bob Skinner collected miniatures so I remember his interest in them. And we continue to see increased activity with the online-only part of the sale. Bidding gets very intense as the end of the sale approaches. Good stuff brings what it should in those sales just as in the live sales. All in all, a good sale and we’re looking forward to October.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3000.
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