Published: June 19, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos By Rick Russack
THOMASTON, MAINE – Kaja Veilleux, owner of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, called his June 1-3 sale, “Worldly Enticements, Timeless Temptations.” It was a varied sale, with something for every taste: early American furniture, European furniture, ethnic African art, early Roman glass, Asian bronzes and ceramics, garden furniture and statuary, marine paintings, ship models, music boxes, ephemera, rare books, jewelry, maps, folk art and more. A collection of custom-made pool cues was included. The most expensive item in the 1,366-lot sale was a 6.24-carat diamond solitaire ring, which sold for $58,500.
The recent retirement of Jim Julia has created opportunities for growth that Veilleux, and other auctioneers, are seeking to maximize. Thomaston Place gallery has been redesigned and renovated to provide more space for displaying merchandise and to provide more seating space. The renovations also allow the company to utilize current and changing technologies more effectively. This included the use of a new, multi-camera video system, which allowed Veilleux to live-stream the sale on Facebook, with links to the website for those wishing to bid.
Restructuring the staff is also intended to pave the way for the company’s future growth. The addition of a chief financial officer and chief operating officer will free up Veilleux and vice president John Botero, who also conducts the company’s real estate sales, to concentrate on marketing the company to attract additional quality consignments. They will do more benefit auctions, more free appraisal days, increased outreach to local and regional groups and associations. Meanwhile, the reorganized staff will deal with the day-to-day needs of running the business.
The new CFO is Paula Houst, who has 40 years of experience in financial and corporate management. She considers utilizing social media one of her strengths and said, “If we don’t do it, we’ll be left behind.” Her background includes extensive experience in the healthcare industry and in tourism. After moving to Maine several years ago, she and her husband have furnished their home with antiques. The new COO, David Robichaud, has more than 30 years of experience in the antiques business, interior design, and he has operated three restaurants in Maine. He has been Veilleux’s friend and customer for many years. He said, “We’re ready to significantly expand this business, even beyond New England. My job will be to see that the day-to-day operations run smoothly, freeing Kaja and John to do what they do best – bring in new business. We may run more live auctions, we may run more online auctions, we may run specialized sales. The charity auctions that Kaja and John do allow them to meet people all over the state, and we’ll see what doing more of that brings. We’re not the same company we were, and a few years from now we’ll probably be a different company than we are today.”
Demonstrating the varied assortment of the offerings, the top grossing lots of the sale included a fine diamond ring, a rare book, a piece of garden statuary, an Asian bronze, a Japanese jade Buddha and a pair of French candelabra. The round ideal cut diamond was GIA certified as L color (slight yellow tint) and VVS1 clarity (very, very slightly included). It was graded with excellent cut, polish and symmetry. Bringing $58,500, it was the top lot of the sale. The next highest price was $24,750, which was achieved for both a jade Buddha and for an electrified pair of 55-inch French, gilded and patinated bronze 12-arm figural candelabra, after models created by sculptor Claude Michel Clodion. They had cast satyr and bacchante figures, with flutes, shields, molded grapes and grapevines. Selling for just a little less, $23,400, was an unsigned life-sized bronze fountain sculpture of a young maiden holding a bowl of water with a bird on its rim.
It is unusual that a rare book finishes in the top lots at a varied sale such as this one, but a true first edition (B edition as listed in the Teerink bibliography) of Gulliver’s Travels did just that, going out for $18,720. Published in 1726, four parts in two volumes as issued, the set included five maps. In the original full calf-tooled binding, it had the bookplate of “Heathcote of Bursley, Baronet,” who was once the Lord Mayor of London. The full title of this work is Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. The title page also says “By Lemuel Gulliver, (Jonathan Swift) First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships. London: Printed for Benj. Motte at the Middle Temple-Gate, Fleet-Street, 1726.” According to the website of the Nineteenth Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop, Stevenson, Md., at the time he wrote this work, Swift was Sir William Temple’s secretary at Moor Park, and he had access to many travel accounts in Temple’s library. A frequent reader of such books during his formative years, Swift began working in 1714 on his own fictional account of the travels of Martinus Scriblerus. The success of Robinson Crusoe in 1719 helped spur on the writing of Gulliver’s Travels.
The sale included a wide selection of marine paintings, ship models and some navigating instruments. An oil on board portrait of the two-masted steam ship El Rio, signed “Antonio Jacobsen, 1909, 39 Palisades Avenue, West Hoboken” depicted the ship at full steam with sails down in a storm. The selling price, $9,945, probably pleased its owners since it had been found in a Maine attic, where it had been left undisturbed since 1972. Finishing a few hundred dollars behind, at $9,360, was a portrait of the three-masted schooner “Marcus A Davis” passing the Boston light by William Pierce Stubbs. It was stenciled on the back “A.A. Kent Jr, Kennebunkport, ME,” who was perhaps the owner of the ship. The marine items included a pair of Nineteenth Century sailor-made beckets in blue, ochre and black paint, with “Turk’s head” axle ends that sold for $1,404. From the same collection came a selection of cased ship dioramas. A large example, 40 inches wide, depicted a four-masted sailing vessel under full sail with a painted background and a textured sea. It reached $585.
As noted, this was a varied sale. An unusual consignment included several custom-made pool cues, with two that were made by master craftsman Ariel Carmeli of Corona, Calif. Each was made of snakewood and African ebony, with ivorene and mother-of-pearl inlay. Each was signed and dated, and each earned $2,223. Carmeli is a maker of custom pool cues and there is currently a 24-month wait for newly-placed orders.
Ethnic items included several African masks and carvings, as well as some Hawaiian and Inuit pieces. The first lot sold on the first of the three days was an 11¾-inch-diameter pre-contact kou umeke calabash poi bowl, in the Maui style, which sold for $2,691. An early, possibly Eighteenth Century, Inuit carved wood shamanic mask went out for $1,170, and an ancient Inuit carved bone doll with a Janus head, dated to 300-500 CE, brought $585. African items included a Benin bronze of a large standing leopard, with engraved decoration, possibly dating from the Nineteenth Century, which realized $6,435. A pair of ivory horns from Cameroon, decorated with carved human figures and carved finials, brought $3,803. African masks included an old carved hardwood wild boar helmet mask from the Makonde people of Tanzania, which sold for $878.
Furniture included an Eighteenth Century slant front desk of exceptionally bold tiger maple, with shell carving and a stepped fitted interior. It brought $4,680. An interesting outsider art carved and painted stepback cupboard from Southwest Harbor, Maine, circa 1890-1910, realized $1,287. It featured Adam and Eve, with a serpent between them, and it also had geese in flight and an underwater scene with fish. One of the more unusual pieces of furniture in the sale was a circa 1760, Chippendale-style Chinese export secretary/desk. Made of padauk wood, it had a flat cornice, two glass doors, a fitted interior and a molded bracket base. The catalog noted that it was “very heavy” and that it bears a label that read “A.G. Breitenstein, Collector and Repairer of Antique Furniture, 74 N. Main St., Old Gorham Building, Providence, R.I.” The catalog acknowledged Breitenstein was known for supplying the finest of furniture for the wealthy China Trade merchants of that city. It went to an internet bidder for $2,691. A Nineteenth Century Chinese opium chair sold for $380, while a carved and lacquered Chinese opium bed brought $1,872.
Other Asian items were led by a Japanese Meiji period carved moss green jadeite Buddha that sold well over the estimate, finishing at $24,570. Twelve inches tall, it was attached to an old rosewood carved plinth by bronze clamps. From the same house, a Meiji Japanese Satsuma cat with collar and bell, reclining on a silk pillow, finished at $10,530. An early Korean Goryeo inlaid celadon bowl, with interior decoration of pomegranate sprays, chrysanthemum sprays and surrounded by clouds, sold for $4,095, despite condition issues.
A few days after the sale, Kaja Veilleux discussed the sale and his plans for the company’s future. “I was very pleased with this sale. I saw strength across the board. I was pleasantly surprised with the mid-Twentieth Century pieces. We don’t see a lot of that in Maine, but it does well when we have it. We sell almost no material consigned by dealers, so 99 percent of our stuff comes from homes within 200 miles of here. There are some things that just didn’t make it to Maine. Some of the Asian pieces did well, and I was surprised by some, like the jadeite Buddha and the Satsuma cat. The garden sculpture was also a nice surprise.”
Regarding the restructuring and plans for the future, he said, “This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. When David and Paula became available, John Botero and I talked with them about what we wanted to do. I’ve known both of those people for years, and I knew just how they could fit into the company. David, with his background in interior design, wanted us to make some physical changes – new fixtures, new layout of the gallery, etc, and Paula knew we could improve our organization and financial management. With Jim Julia’s retirement, we’re getting more calls than ever before and we’re getting great merchandise.
“Our August sale will be one of our best ever – we have some incredible paintings and Asian stuff and we’ll have more by the time of the sale. There’s always been a lot of money in this area, and there’s some wonderful stuff in homes in the state. Many folks have other homes in Florida or other places, and often those homes are furnished differently than Maine homes. So, we have a lot of things like European furniture, etc, that you might not expect to find at a Maine auction. I plan to add one more key player to our staff and that would be a strong marketing person with strong social media awareness. That might be a younger person with an interest in antiques or fine art. This is the right time for these moves. I want to see us grow and become one of the strongest auction houses in New England.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium as quoted by the auction house. For information, www.thomastonauction.com or 207-354-8141.
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