Published: December 4, 2007
The preview buzz at the October 14 Willis Henry Auctions Shaker sale was all about the quality of the Nineteenth Century smalls about to cross the block. The proof was in the pudding, and it was the smalls that ruled the day.
The runaway star was a New Lebanon oval box with the original chrome yellow stain that sold to a phone buyer for $35,100. As it was hammered down, collector M. Stephen Miller, author of the recently published From Shaker Lands and Shaker Hands: A Survey of the Industries, observed, “It’s clean, honest and as straight as they come.” The box came from the collection of Evelyn Murphy and was acquired in 1986 at her estate auction in Cambridgeport, Vt., and was accompanied by a signed statement by auctioneer J.P. Bittner attesting to that. The box, marked on the inside, “1850” and “1843,” opened at $10,000 and advanced rapidly.
Dealers, longtime collectors and the newly converted all prize Shaker objects; each has his or her own area of focus but an overriding consideration is the craftsmanship and the ingenuity evidenced in nearly every piece the Shakers made. They convene at a sale or an exhibit with an eye to value, but with a genuine affection for the material.
Other boxes inspired enthusiasm: An Enfield oval carrier in the original brick red paint, with a carved swing handle and six fingers measured 13 inches to the top of the handle by 14¾ by 11 inches and brought $15,210 from Miller, who was active throughout the sale. A Canterbury maple and pine oval box in the original chrome yellow with three fingers and copper tack closures also realized $15,210.
A four-fingered 11¾-by-4¾-inch Enfield oval box in maple and pine and retaining the original cherry red finish bore an interior pencil inscription “&⁓ewing Box”; it sold for $11,105. A 9-by-3½-inch Enfield example bore a tag on which was written, “Shaker Box, made&⁓hakers at Enfield, N.H., originally contained sage, given me by Nell Herrick,” went to Eric Maffei, also for $11,105. There was speculation that the two boxes were by the same maker.
A lot of three Enfield oval boxes in maple and pine comprised two with three fingers and one with four, all retaining the original cherry, orange and brick red paints; they went on the phone for $7,020.
A small (1½ by 35/8 inches) Canterbury oval box in maple and pine with the original yellow stain had three fingers and small copper tacks. It brought $3,510 from Suzanne Courcier and Bob Wilkins.
The offerings were gleaned from several collections, including that of Ed Clerk, Gus Nelson, the Smith family collection and the Kane collection from the Andrews family collection.
A small of particularly large interest was the dainty circa 1830‴0 tiger maple thread box that sold for $8,775. As he hammered it down, auctioneer Will Henry said, “It gave me chills when I saw it.” The catalog described its form as “rare, possibly unique.” The tiny box measured 1¾ by 75/8 by 1½ inches and contained five beautifully formed maple spools of silk thread with six drilled slots for the spools and tiny holes to feed the threads. The box came from a private collection and went to Courcier and Wilkins.
A pine and maple yarn winder attracted heavy interest and drew $7,605. The device retained the original cranberry paint, a cream colored painted clock face with 40 measuring increments and came from the Hancock community. An Enfield round pine, maple and oak sewing box retaining the original red stained finish with three fingers from right to left and 15 pairs of exterior holes to accommodate thread, along with carved maple spools, sold for $7,020 on the phone. The box, which came from the Smith family collection, had an interior single finger holder for sewing implements and was dated 1815 and decorated with the punched initials “EE,” also in the interior.
Manchester, Vt., dealer Mark Reinfurt paid $4,095 for a maple spool holder with a tomato red pincushion, a turned base with six pins for spools with silk thread and a 5¼-inch oval box with three fingers from which the varnish had been removed. Speaking after the sale, he said he was thrilled to have the spool holder and would have paid three times the price just to get it. He was buying for a client.
A 36-inch maple tailor’s measure from the Ed Clerk collection dated from about 1830 and retained the original yellow orange finish and was hand numbered. It realized $4,973.
A Watervliet pine and poplar hanger with five hangers attached to a vertical poplar bar was signed in pencil, “Ann B, 64,” and realized $5,850. A three-bar pine hanger from the Clerk collection drew $3,259 from Miller. The pale gray wool Canterbury sister’s cloak that he bought for $761 came with its own wood hanger that was dated 1904. The cloak retained the blue label of “The Dorothy” by Hart and Shepard of East Canterbury.
Although it was the smalls that drew the most consistent interest, the sale highlight was an 8-foot-2-inch-long Mount Lebanon cherry, maple and pine trestle table with a breadboard top that went to an absentee bidder for $46,800.
A circa 1840 pine blanket chest with the original yellow painted finish from the South family of Mount Lebanon, signed on the inside lid in pencil “Euphronia (illegible),” brought $32,175 from David Schorsch. The chest had come from the Clerk collection. Schorsch also took a New Lebanon sewing desk in cherry, walnut and poplar with a crested backboard, which came from the Gus Nelson collection, for $17,000.
A collector in the room was very eager and snapped up a butternut and poplar cupboard over six drawers, a circa 1850 New Lebanon piece for which he paid $20,475. Some potential buyers were spooked by the porcelain knobs that were original to the piece and have been seen in other examples. The same collector bought a sewing stand in butternut, pine and tiger maple with a beautiful grain for $3,510. The stand had a square top with cut corners and two dovetailed drawers.
A New Lebanon two-piece cupboard in chestnut, oak and pine on an arched base with four open shelves above 25 herb drawers, a book cupboard with glass doors above two paneled doors had a lot going on and realized $16,830 from a collector who left a bid.
A pine set of three steps on arched sides from New Lebanon was $7,020, and a New Lebanon pine washstand in the original salmon stain with a tiger maple holder for stove tools went for $5,850. A pine and birch washstand retained traces of the original red paint had a curved back and sides, a single underhung dovetailed drawer with a turned cherry pull. Labeled “Purchased Mt Lebanon 1974, Infirmary,” the piece came from the Gus Nelson collection and realized $8,775.
A miniature Shaker room furnished with chairs, a bench, tables, a stove, hats and bonnets, a candlestand and other accessories, all made by Gus Schwerdtfeger of New Gloucester, Maine, sold for a reasonable $1,989 to Courcier and Wilkins. Courcier and Wilkins also bought a New Lebanon sewing desk in cherry and poplar with a crested backsplash for $16,380. The desk had come from a Bermuda collection. They also paid $7,020 for an early Nineteenth Century maple and horsehair brush with the original red finish that had come from the Clerk collection.
Baskets from the Clerk collection stirred paddles: a pounded black ash example dated 1855 had a circular top that was 8½ inches in diameter, a kittenhead molded base and a tall carved hoop handle and sold for $7,020.
Two circa 1840 black ash baskets from the Clerk collection were also of interest. A 6½-inch example with a tall carved hoop drew $5,168, and a 12-inch example with a single wrapped cane rim and a carved handle extending the length of the basket was $3,510.
The star of the chairs was the maple and cherry elder’s rocker with four beveled slats made in the Watervliet community in about 1830 that came from the Gus Nelson collection. It realized $14,627
An “O” child’s rocking armchair in maple with a light walnut finish bore the Shaker trademark and realized $6,435 from a phone buyer.
A sweepingly splayed leg maple high chair in the original ebony stain with acorn finials and mushroom arms from Mount Lebanon sold for $4,095. As he hammered it down, Henry said he had sold it years ago and “would be proud to have it back. If you want to sell it again, call me.”
All prices quoted reflect the 17 percent buyer’s premium. For information, 781-834-7774 or www.willishenry.com .
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