Published: April 12, 2022
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Skinner
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – On March 30, Skinner conducted a small but select live sale of Americana that grossed more than $466,000. There were only 111 lots, but they were high quality with furniture, especially New England furniture, leading the way. Some of the early furniture had at one time been owned by Hollis French (1868-1940), one the earliest collectors of early American furniture and a scholar of early American silver, whose writings on the subject were published in the 1930s. The sale also included two Andrew Clemens sand bottles, items that had belonged to Alexander Hamilton, a superb Eighteenth Century Queen Anne doll and so much more.
Bringing the top price of the sale, $43,750, was a Chippendale mahogany bombé chest of drawers, made in Boston or Salem, circa 1760-80. The chest with four graduated drawers, on ogee bracket feet centering a drop-pendant, had a molded top and exposed dovetails. It had original brass, had been refinished and its feet had been partially pieced out. It had a distinguished provenance, being owned since 1970 by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, (now Historic New England), for whose benefit it was being sold. It was illustrated in New England Furniture: The Colonial Era by Brock Jobe and Myrna Kaye.
Two pieces of New Hampshire furniture finished within the top four prices of the day. An impressive late Eighteenth Century Queen Anne maple carved chest on chest attributed to Major John Dunlap, Bedford, N.H., realized $31,250. It had all the bells and whistles for which Dunlap is known: a crest with cut-out scrolls, a carved central fan, a scroll and fan-carved skirt, with cabriole legs ending in pad feet and more. It had been included in the 1970 exhibition at the Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester, N.H., and it had been illustrated in that exhibition’s catalog by Charles Parsons. It had provenance to the 1951 O. Rundle Gilbert onsite sale of the Max Israel collection in Henniker, N.H., where it sold for $3,750.
A late Eighteenth Century New Hampshire carved maple high chest of drawers definitely had a country “feel.” It descended in the Hollis French family and was thought to be made by Moses Hazen Jr of Weare, N.H. Hazen was apparently influenced by the Dunlap family but derived his own version of some of their details. For example, this high chest had an unusual carved double fan and pinwheel on a drawer in the top section. It also had carved triangular carving along the top edge of the lower portion and a cut-out skirt. It retained its original surface, some of its original hardware and showed signs of its rough use. It brought $22,500. There were several other pieces of early furniture, including a circa 1700 joined chest, a William and Mary tiger maple high chest, a Chippendale slant-front desk and more.
There were three sand bottles in the sale; two by Andrew Clemens and one by Harvey F. Haltmeyer, both of McGregor, Iowa, made in 1964. One of the two Clemens bottles went, unusually, unsold, perhaps due to the subject matter. It was 9½ inches tall and depicted the paddle-wheel steamer Gray Eagle on one side and an eagle and American flag on the other. If the word “common” can be applied to Clemens sand bottles, this subject matter may have been considered routine, as other bottles with similar motifs have been sold recently. The smaller Clemens bottle, 5¾ inches tall, depicting an unnamed fully rigged sailing vessel, sold for $37,500. It, too, had an American flag on the reverse. Both of these bottles were made about 1885-90. Clemens was born in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1857, and later moved to McGregor, Iowa. At the age of five he became deaf and mute after an illness. He earned his livelihood by arranging colored sand to make pictures in glass bottles. The Haltmeyer bottle was just under 20 inches tall, and the online listing informs us: “Harvey F. Haltmeyer (1888-1870) emigrated from Austria and settled in McGregor, Iowa. He began producing sand bottles around 1925. This bottle is thought to be the largest example of Haltmeyer’s work.” It realized $3,750.
Three lots with items that belonged to Alexander Hamilton proved to be surprising, each selling well above estimates. One lot, bringing $21,250, included a framed lock of his hair, a letter from a descendant confirming its authenticity, a photostat of a letter he wrote to his wife shortly before his fatal duel with Aaron Burr and some early glassware. A lot with ten pieces of Hamilton family silver brought $5,313. Another lot with a pair of gold-frame spectacles given to Hamilton by George Washington, again with family provenance, along with a swatch of cloth from Martha Washington’s wedding dress, brought $26,250. The three lots, combined, sold for $52,813. The combined estimate was $2,400. Examples like this are what make auctions so much fun. You simply never know what may happen.
Skinner has recently been sold by its owners, Karen Keane and Stephen “Steve” Fletcher, to Bonhams. Both have been associated with Skinner, which was founded in 1962, for decades and both plan to remain with the company. In 1964, Fletcher, the company’s first employee, started working for Bob Skinner while still in high school. After graduating and four years in the Navy, during which time he stayed in touch with Bob’s wife, Nancy, Fletcher joined the company full-time. He recalls that he always had an interest in antiques, and while in high school went to flea markets and yard sales, and remembers that he made his first sale, $12, for a painted a tin box for which he had paid $8. “I went to the Amherst flea market every week and when I made that first sale, and I made $4, I was really hooked. I did my first antiques show when I was in the 9th grade. This business is never boring – you never know what will turn up on the next house call. And Karen and I are really proud of the team we’ve assembled and the way the business has grown. We’re really pleased about the sale to Bonhams. It’s a great company and we fit together well. For me, personally, I’ve been trying to cut back a little, like working just three days a week, and maybe now I’ll be able to do that.”
Karen Keane got her MFA from Boston University, where she studied under John Kirk and started working at Skinner part-time in 1978, going full-time in 1980. Both she and Fletcher had strong interests in Americana and they built on that. “I had been doing a little buying and selling in the ’70s and really loved the objects we were seeing. Great stuff from all kinds of New England estates. Bob Skinner was wonderful to work for, a great teacher and he had a vision of what he wanted this company to be. Unusual for the time, he wanted specialist departments headed by people who understood what they were looking at and would be able earn the trust of our customers. We were also the first auction company to take advantage of computers back in the ’70s. Bob had worked for Raytheon and understood how they could help in running our business. We developed proprietary software to simplify invoicing our buyers and for backroom control of our inventory. We always embraced technology and we were one of the first to have our own website. And we’ve continued to utilize technology any way we can. That was one of the reasons Bonhams was interested in our company. Steve and I are really looking forward to the company’s next chapter.” (Skinner kindly provided some photos from their archives for this article.)
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3211.
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