Published: August 25, 2020
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Skinner
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – In the old days (like last year), Skinner’s August Americana sales would have been conducted over a weekend in mid-August. This year the sales were divided into two ten-day “timed” online-only sales. The quality of the offerings was unchanged, and the results indicated that many buyers participated. Together, the two sales grossed $1,636,000 and were led by a late Eighteenth Century cherry chest of drawers on frame, which finished at $137,500. In addition to that six-figure price, 19 items sold in the five-figure range. Bidding was strong in both parts of the sale and was particularly strong for the Americana portion.
The preview extended over a two-week period and was like none other. Regular Skinner clients are accustomed to previews with all the offerings for an upcoming sale attractively displayed and easily examined, whether in Marlborough or Boston. This Marlborough sale was different. None of the material was displayed in galleries, hung on walls or in showcases. Instead, everything to be sold was in the cavernous lower level storerooms, jumbled together. Smalls were on open shelves; mocha was with mocha and stoneware with stoneware. Many clients never got to see the lower level displays. Preview appointments were needed, and if your interest was in smalls, the appropriate items would be brought up to a small tent set up in the parking lot. When arriving for a scheduled viewing, clients would find the doors to the building locked with a sign advising a call to the appropriate specialist, who would come up and open the doors. Before access was granted, a form asking about one’s health condition had to be filled out. This was to be used in case contact tracing might be needed.
Consequently, close-up examination of some items was not easy, but Steve Fletcher, Chris Barber and Chris Fox were there to help and answer questions. When asked, Fletcher said that with eight to ten clients coming in each day, the extended period would accommodate all and that, in fact, he did not believe he was seeing fewer faces. “Several clients told me that they thought this exhibition was like poking around an attic filled with good stuff. It was certainly different, but they loved the rummaging around. This format did increase the work we had to do – we took more than 340 additional photographs for clients who wanted to see things from a different angle or had questions about a specific detail, and sometimes we had to move some furniture so that a particular piece could be closely examined.”
The cherry chest-on-frame was one of the true rarities in the American furniture field. It was a late Eighteenth Century example and, according to the catalog, made in Deerfield, Mass. With an elaborately scalloped overhanging top and on cabriole legs with a fan carved drawer, it had an old, refinished surface. The catalog stated that it may have been made for Abigail Hoyt, who married a prosperous Greenfield farmer in 1783. David Schorsch, who was the underbidder, said, “It was wonderful. There are certain pieces on the ‘dream’ list in my brain, and I never expected to see this one. It’s the first genuine chest of its type I’ve seen for sale in 40 years. I was bidding on it for inventory. I wish I’d had a customer for it.” It was accompanied by a receipt from John Walton, on which he wrote “best of its type.”
Other furniture prices were also strong. One of the closely watched pieces was a carved oak and pine two-drawer Hadley chest, dating to the late Seventeenth or early Eighteenth Century. The initials “MH” were carved in a panel below the lift top, and the catalog speculates that the chest may be related to Miriam Hovey, born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1689. The chest is discussed as number 40 in Luther’s The Hadley Chest. The chest retained its original top and remnants of the original black color. It sold for $62,500. The third highest priced piece of furniture in the sale was a Queen Anne upholstered easy chair, probably made in Boston, circa 1725-35. Some scholars thought it might have been made in Ipswich or Portsmouth. It had been purchased from Israel Sack, Inc in 1973 and earned $50,000, more than ten times its low estimate. It’s interesting to consider that each of these pieces of furniture came to Skinner from the same consignor. All, along with other significant pieces, had been bought from the top dealers of the 1970s.
Should serious collectors and dealers shop Goodwill stores and eBay? You decide. The sale included an exceptional carved and painted figure, 14 inches tall, of an Indian chief that may have been a model for a ship’s figurehead. It was a fully carved figure with fine detail, dressed in a fringed shirt, feather headdress, leggings and moccasins, standing on a scrolled base. When Chris Barber was asked which was his personal favorite object in the sale, he immediately picked this carving. David Schorsch paid $21,250 for it, saying “I’m not sure what it was intended for – a figurehead or a model for a tobacconist figure, but I think it’s one of those very special objects.” Regarding the Goodwill and eBay references, the carving had first been purchased at a Goodwill store in Seattle, Wash., and then sold on eBay, where the consignor was the buyer.
The Americana sale had an impressive number of actual bidders – 660, of whom 318 were successful. A total of 93 percent of the 620 lots sold. The total of 1,113 registered bidders may have been a record for the company, indicating the changes taking place in the business.
The first of the sales was a single-owner sale, that of John Kolar, a 35-year collection, primarily of Ohio and Pennsylvania folk art. Included was redware, fraktur, painted furniture and smalls, weathervanes and more. The weathervanes all had a history of production or use in Pennsylvania, and most had been included in a 2016 exhibition at the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. The Kolar collection, with 331 lots, grossed $473,400. There was a total of 343 bidders of whom 168 were successful and 97.3 percent of the lots sold.
Bidders drove the price of a paint-decorated dower chest with an identified and dated scene to $33,750, the top lot of the Kolar collection. The chest had a painting of a red-roofed two-story house, flanked by trees. The façade was lettered in yellow “Noah Mari” and dated 1846. It came from the Sugar Creek township in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. An image of this chest is used as the frontispiece illustration for Ohio Furniture Makers 1790 to 1860 by Jane Sikes and Edward M. Hageman, 1989.
John Kolar was partial to weathervanes, and the second highest priced item from his collection was a horse and sulky weathervane pictured in an 1893 J.W. Fiske catalog, as well as a J.L. Mott catalog of 1892. It was 41 inches long with original surface. Kolar included it in the catalog for the Landis Valley Museum exhibition, in which he identified the horse as the trotter Maud S. It sold for $16,250. Another of Kolar’s weathervanes, a flattened full-body figure of Black Hawk, 26 inches long, stamped Harris & Co, brought $8,125.
Surprising everyone was a colorful 19-inch painted tin serving tray depicting a bold American eagle with a red ribbon, which, while estimated at $100/200, brought $8,125. It was a good sale for the eagle motif. The Americana portion included a circa 1835 scherenschnitte with a large eagle by Isaac Stiehly, Mahantongo Valley, Pennsylvania, circa 1835. The cutwork picture depicted a spreadwing eagle grasping a US flag in its beak below the word “Liberty.” It had come from the Sidney Gecker collection and reached $7,500.
Kolar also collected Pennsylvania redware and fraktur. The most sought-after piece of redware was a mid-Nineteenth Century, 7-5/8-inch slip-decorated plate from the Dry Pottery, Dryville, Rockland Township, Berks County, Penn., which reached $5,000. The most successful of the fraktur selection, bringing $4,688, was a watercolor and pen and ink house blessing fraktur by the “Manor Township Artist,” Lancaster County, Penn., dated 1822. All in all, a successful sale and the Skinner website has numerous color photos of all items.
A few days before the sale, Karen Keane, the firm’s chief executive officer, said, “Our business keeps changing and we keep adapting and trying things we’ve never done before. Clients are obviously comfortable with online bidding, but for us that means more time expended delivering condition reports, answering questions, sending out detailed photos when we’re asked, etc. We’re structuring sales to give ourselves that time. We’re having to be agile and willing to make changes as reality requires. We can’t stay with something just because that’s the way we did it last month. We need to do the very best for our consignors and do the best we can to keep our staff healthy. So, if you’re asking me what changes we see down the road, all I can say is stay tuned.” She said she was also quite satisfied at the conclusion of the sales.
Steve Fletcher was justifiably pleased with the sale. “We had wonderful material assembled by knowledgeable collectors who understood what they were looking at,” he said. “They bought from the premier dealers and the market responded appropriately. Since we’ve switched to sending out the glossy mailers, we’ve been able to reach far more buyers than we did utilizing catalogs. That’s not to say that glossy catalogs may not be used in the future, but right now we’re reaching the broad audience we want to. The number of bidders registered for the Americana sale – more than 1,100 – was a good indication of that and was probably the most we’ve ever had. That included numerous first-time, for us, customers. While the preview format was certainly different, I think we were able to let anyone who wanted to examine the stuff and talk with me or Chris Barber or Chris Fox, who were on hand throughout the extended preview. It worked.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3200.
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