Published: October 26, 2021
Review by Rick Russack, Photos Courtesy Skinner Inc
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – There was some, but not much, Nineteenth Century material when Skinner sold the collection of Illinois collector and dealer Marion Atten, who passed away last year. She collected and sold at numerous shows and her shop the furniture and accessories used in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century American and European homes. There have been few such “focused” sales of that material, perhaps since Skinner’s sale of the Roger Bacon collection in 1983 and Skinner’s sale of the Forke collection in 2019. Buyers responded enthusiastically, with many items far exceeding estimates.
Topping the sale, bringing $31,250, was an Eighteenth Century Connecticut River Valley Hadley chest. The collection included numerous treen plates and bowls, bellarmine jugs, early lighting, Seventeenth Century bibles, numerous joint stools, joint chests, Pilgrim century chairs, tin glazed earthenware, early arms and armor and a wide variety of unusual, small, early accessories. The October 14 sale was a “timed” auction with a three-day live preview in Skinner’s Marlborough gallery. The gross, more than $510,000, exceeded the high estimate, so both the consignor and Skinner were well satisfied.
From the time the catalog was posted online, the sale’s early favorite emerged in a Connecticut River Valley Hadley chest that would bring the highest price of the sale. Online bids were more than $11,000 the day before the sale was to end and the final price, $31,250, was nearly four times the estimate. The early Eighteenth Century carved oak chest with one drawer had characteristic overall flat tulip carving with the initials “MI” within the central panel. The fact that the carved top was a replacement did not deter bidders, who also accepted the other minor imperfections and the refinishing.
Finishing at $21,250 was a circa 1690 Plymouth County two-drawer joined chest. The two drawers were below a geometric paneled façade, with a double tombstone, sawtooth carved molding, and the chest had paneled sides and stile feet. It had been pictured in Luke Vincent Lockwood’s Colonial Furniture in America and had been exhibited at the Van Cortland Mansion in the Bronx. It had last been sold at Sotheby’s in 2010, and Skinner’s catalog stated, “according to the catalog note when this piece was last offered at auction, only four other chests from this group of Plymouth County examples survive with the double arch arrangement of moldings on the central panel.” Whether the top was original or an old replacement was questionable, but other condition issues were minor.
There were several other joined pieces. A circa 1675-1700 carved and joined oak sunflower cupboard, converted from a chest, made in Wethersfield, Conn., or that vicinity, brought $18,750. It had a molded top above a converted cupboard section with carved floral panels and turned, applied ebonized half-baluster spindles. The top section originally had a lift top, which is now fixed, and the facade has been made into a two-door cupboard.
Many of the pieces in the collection had solid provenances. For example, a carved oak sunflower chest with replaced hinges, also from the Wethersfield area, realized $11,250. It had been illustrated and discussed in Wallace Nutting’s, Furniture of the Pilgrim Century and also pictured in Helen Comstock’s American Furniture. It had reportedly been displayed at Sturbridge Village in the Fenno House. A Seventeenth Century carved oak bible box, which brought $17,500, more than four times estimate, was closely related to a chair with Hingham history, which had been pictured and discussed in The Wrought Covenant: Source Material for the Study of Craftsmen and Community in Southeastern New England, 1620-1700.
A selection of early arms and armor did well, usually exceeding estimates. A .73 caliber German matchlock musket from the second quarter of the Seventeenth Century was of most interest to buyers, as it finished at $8,125. It was 42½ inches long, had a walnut stock and a long flat lock with punched decoration. The selection of several early helmets was topped by a steel “lobster tail” horseman’s helmet, dating to the Seventeenth Century, which realized $4,063. It had a layered tail, ear flaps and an adjustable brim. Another helmet, this one a Spanish iron and brass morion helmet from the Sixteenth Century, brought $3,750. Morion helmets are the type of helmet that Spanish conquistadores, such as de Soto and Coronado, supplied to their troops and are seen in numerous illustrations of these troops in Mexico. An early Nineteenth Century steel crossbow with brass inlay on a walnut frame was sold with a leather quiver, which held four reproduction bolts (arrows). Two had carved wooded points, one was wrought iron and the other was of an unidentified metal. A lethal looking grouping, it realized $531.
Period accessories are necessary to complete the feeling created by the early furniture, and the Atten collection had a wide variety, from early lighting devices, treen plates and bowls, early leather-bound books, simple tin glazed ceramics and bellarmines and more. While treen plates abound, Eighteenth Century turned wooden barber bowls do not. One in this collection had a wide brim and simple, turned decoration. With an attached rope for hanging, it sold for $4,688. Numerous treen plates were sold either individually or in groups of two and ranged in price from $136 to $800/900. A group of five leather bound religious books, mostly Seventeenth Century, went out for $2,250, and another group of four, the same age, earned a little less, $2,125.
Marion Atten’s collection included some unusual early lighting devices. One of the oddest was an early Nineteenth Century wooden candle lantern with wooden spindles joining the top and bottom. The candle itself was attached to a movable wooden platform that allowed it to be lighted easily. Buyers responded well, as it earned $2,750, more than five times the estimate, and that turned out to be the most expensive of the lighting offerings. A pair of bulbous pewter candlesticks, probably Dutch or English and dating from the Seventeenth Century, sold for $1,750. Several wrought iron rush lights, sold individually, each went out around $500. A lot of four Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century wrought iron betty lamps went out for $213. Early tallow candles turn up with some frequency, but chunks of the beef tallow used to make them rarely appear. A lot with five Eighteenth Century tallow candles (the largest of which was 10 inches tall) and several chunks of beef tallow earned $875.
An outstanding Seventeenth Century German pale stoneware jug, just under 10 inches tall with a finely molded, bearded face and a loop handle earned $2,875. Other early ceramics included a small selection of bellarmine jugs and some early Eighteenth Century tin glazed covered jars, bowls, etc. An undecorated group of eight, with a soft white glaze, realized $1,125. Five small Eighteenth Century German stoneware jugs and a vase, sold together, brought $875.
After the sale, Steve Fletcher was enthusiastic about the results. “We weren’t sure how it would go since this very early furniture interests a specialized group of buyers,” he observed. “But those who really love early things were here for the preview and several were here for a long time, closely examining things. We also had a large number of requests for more detailed conditioned reports from the online buyers who were unable to attend in person. She had a wonderful assortment of period accessories, the sort of stuff that you hardly ever see. It was nice to see that broad level of interest. Many of the individual things exceeded their high estimates and the total gross also exceeded the high estimate for the sale. I spoke with Marion’s son and he, too, was pleased with the results.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, https://www.skinnerinc.com/ or 508-970-3211.
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