Published: October 23, 2001
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – Timing may not be everything, but it’s close. With war unfolding in Afghanistan, Sotheby’s embarked on a week of sales featuring Americana from several noteworthy collections. The results, not surprisingly, were not all the York Avenue auction house had hoped for. Still, rare rdf_Descriptions in fine condition attracted ample attention and some brought prices that would be considered robust even in a bull market.
Sotheby’s various owners sale of Important Americana got underway on Thursday, October 11. “It was painful,” said one dealer. With 297 lots on offer, nearly 40 percent failed to sell. The sale’s total, $2,777,200, amounted to only 59.3 percent of the pre-sale estimate. To make matters worse, several of the most touted lots, including two illustrated on the catalog’s cover, were bought in.
One bright note was the sale of a large, vibrant canvaswork picture confidently depicting a stylized basket of flowers and a brick-chimneyed house with a stately drive bordered by trees.
Dating to about 1750, the Fairfield, Conn. textile sold to Old Saybrook, Conn. dealers Stephen and Carol Huber for $203,750, easily exceeding its presale estimate of $40/60,000. Carol Huber, who bid on behalf of a client, said that the piece, which is initialed “S.I.,” was recently discovered in a boxed lot in a consignment sale and is one of four similar works known.
Others from the group include a pair worked by Mary Lockwood; another, dated 1741, by Anna Burr; and a fourth, now at the Middlesex Historical Society in Middletown, Conn.
For $28,350 (est $30/50,000), the Hubers also got a silk embroidered mourning picture under a damaged but original eglomise mat. The charming and rare example showing Lady Liberty with George Washington and an American flag is inscribed “The Emblem of America by H. Pearson.” It is probably from the Boston area, Huber said.
Prices for hooked rugs held up at both houses. In Sotheby’s various-owners sale, a room-sized floor covering decorated with a pleasing pattern of acorns and oak leaves topped its estimate, selling for $15,600.
For $110,000, a private buyer purchased a Queen Anne chest-on-chest of figured walnut with the intention of giving it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The chest, dating to circa 1730, is a noteworthy example of early Philadelphia cabinetry whose distinctive features include a canted cornice, fluted corners, a rectilinear skirt and, most notably, Spanish feet.
The chest-on-chest was consigned to Sotheby’s about a year and a half ago, said Jack Lindsey, curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sotheby’s, at first, thought it was English. On a hunch, it was taken to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for further study. There, museum conservators determined that it was most likely by an as yet unidentified Philadelphia cabinetmaker who also created a high chest and a matching dressing table at Stenton, as well as two dressing tables sold by a Downington, Penn. antiques dealer.
A single chest with applied Spanish feet is illustrated in Lindsey’s book, Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania. “There is a group of about five pieces with short Spanish feet, but this relates to a group that has cabriole Spanish feet,” noted the curator.
“We were wild to get this piece because it is rare, early and fills the gap between the development of turned-foot pieces and that of the cabriole Spanish foot form. It’s like a puzzle piece.” Lindsey added, “Given its age, it is amazing that this chest-on-chest has its original brasses, and that the feet and moldings haven’t been disturbed.”
Another private collector made a gift to the museum, of a mountain lion, 14 1/2 inches long, with yellow glass eyes. The walnut sculpture, which sold for $35,250, was carved by Edgar Alexander McKillop (1879-1950), a North Carolina folk artist. “We’ve been looking for some Southern material to go along with our Pennsylvania German collection. We acquired a squirrel by McKillop about five years ago,” said Lindsey. Other pieces by McKillop are in the collections of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center at Colonial Williamsburg and in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
Dating to circa 1760 was a Philadelphia Chippendale dishtop candlestand with birdcage support and ball-and-claw feet, an unusual feature on this form. Illustrated in Volume I of The Sack Collection, it sold to a New Jersey dealer for $75,000 (est $80/120,000). A set of Twentieth Century mahogany dining chairs in the Philadelphia Chippendale style left the room at $21,450, proof that the old adage “age before beauty” isn’t always true.
Attributed to Joseph Barry of Philadelphia, a pair of Federal brass and ebony mounted mahogany games tables, circa 1815, came in at low estimate, $46,750. Other works by Barry were less successful. Passed were a Classical white painted and parcel-gilt carved open armchair ($30/50,000); a Classical cylinder-front desk ($20/40,000); and a late Federal carved sofa ($25/35,000).
Leading a selection of Massachusetts furniture was a Chippendale reverse serpentine chest of drawers, $87,000 ($100/150,000); a walnut flattop high chest of drawers with distinctively carved ears on its skirt, $58,250; and a Chippendale desk-and-bookcase with an architectural pediment and shell-carved interior, $49,625. A Queen Anne mahogany slant-front desk with a blocked front and shell-carved interior was another desirable rdf_Description, selling to the trade at $26,050.
Displaying the hallmarks of New London county furniture making, a Connecticut cherry high chest of drawers sold to a New England dealer for $69,750 ($60/90,000). Other regional examples included a Baltimore tall-case clock with works attributed to George Levely, $46,750.
Always a desirable rdf_Description, a set of ten Federal New York chairs, including one armchair, went retail, selling squarely within estimate for $58,250.
Dated April 7, 1836, a double portrait by Joseph H. Davis sold to a Philadelphia collector for $87,000 ($60/80,000). The subjects are a middle-aged couple, William and Polly Foss of Center Strafford, N.H. The portrait surfaced in August 2000 in Boston, at a taping of Antiques Roadshow.
In 1998, a group of seven watercolor portraits by Davis of the Joseph Jones family of Farmington, N.H., sold to Connecticut dealer Marguerite Riordan for $225,500. The group included a double portrait very similar to this one. About 160 portraits by Davis, who worked in New Hampshire and Maine between 1833 and 1837, survive.
There was also heated interest in a full-length watercolor portrait by Jacob Maentel, a German-American itinerant painter who worked in Pennsylvania. John Martin Titzel of Shiremantown, Penn., is shown, at about age three, holding a bird, a farmscape in the distance. The 9 ¾ – by 7 1/2-inch work on paper dating to about 1835 fetched $16,800. The lot came with Titzel’s blue cotton outfit, shown in the watercolor. A Birth and Baptismal Certificate for Christina Becker, a watercolor, pen and ink drawing on paper of 1804 by the Strasburg Artist, sold for $39,950 ($40/60,000).
Topping a small selection of sculptural folk art were three carved and painted angels, created as decoration for the Lutheran Church in Schaefferstown, Penn., $72,625; and a carved and painted Indian Princess trade figure attributed to Samuel Robb, 64 inches tall, $26,050.
A mid-Eighteenth Century portrait of an elegant young woman in satin finery, attributed to Robert Feke, brought $21,450. Nineteenth Century art included portraits of an unidentified man and a woman, circa 1825, attributed to Ammi Phillips, $30,650 ($25/50,000). Works on paper by Bill Traylor headed Twentieth Century offerings, with two out of six drawings by the Outsider artist bringing $35,250 each.
Among interesting pieces of Eighteenth Century silver was a New York tankard with a cover inset with a 1727 French crown piece. The vessel, sold for $29,500, was made by Peter Vergereau for Anthony Duane, an Irish-born British naval officer. His son James Duane married Maria Livingston in 1759 and became a noted patriot and signer of the Articles of Confederation in Philadelphia in 1777.
Shown on the catalog cover, an urn shaped coffeepot made by Joseph Richardson, Jr., of Philadelphia, circa 1790-1800, garnered a bid of $18,000.
The top honors in the silver category, however, went to a Nineteenth Century piece by Tiffany & Co. Two exceptionally beautiful wine coolers in the Chrysanthemum pattern, dating to 1880, achieved a bid of $46,750 against an estimate of $25/35,000. A 124-piece silver-gilt dessert flatware service designed by Edward C. Moore in 1889 for Tiffany & Co and presented to J.P. Morgan by the New York Central Railroad for J.P. Morgan left the room at $41,000. Newspaper accounts of the day speculated its worth to be about $50,000.
Items of a patriotic, or overtly historical nature, generated greater than average interest. For instance, a four-inch long gold bear on an onyx base sold for $29,500. It had been presented to President William McKinley by the Society of California Pioneers, a group of pre-Gold Rush settlers; the Associated Veterans of the Mexican War; and the Native Sons of the Golden West to commemorate the President’s visit to San Francisco on May 16, 1901.
McKinley was killed four months later, but not before receiving this acknowledgment of his position as defender of the gold standard for American currency.
A 37-star American National flag made of wool bunting sold to a collector for $58,250 ($50/75,000). It had been presented to Abraham Lincoln for his approval by General B. F. Butler of Lowell, Mass., on April 11, 1865, three days before Lincoln’s assassination. A century later it surfaced at auction in London. A second flag, commemorating Colorado’s entrance to the Union on August 1, 1876, brought $12,000 ($5/8,000).
More than tripling its low estimate, a portrait of General George Washington sold for $29,500. A red, white and blue shield quilt sold for $13,200. The textile was accompanied by a letter from Thomas E. Dewey, Jr., stating that the quilt had belonged to his parents.
Several of the auction’s most touted lots failed to sell, dogged either by overzealous estimates or condition concerns. Pictured on the catalog cover, a Philadelphia Queen Anne marble-top pier table dating to 1750 was passed at $800/1,200,000. Uncertain about the age of the marble top, one expert speculated that his colleagues were waiting for January, when Sotheby’s will sell property from the collection of Gunston Hall Plantation.
Other major disappointments included a serpentine-front, inlaid sideboard made by John Shaw of Annapolis, passed at estimate $60/90,000; a labeled Pembroke table by Shaw, passed at $40/60,000; a large scrimshaw whale’s tooth engraved with a fully rigged whaling vessel flying an American flag, passed at $20/30,000; and the auction’s last lot, a Shenandoah County, Va., blanket chest colorfully decorated by Johannes Spitler. Dating to circa 1798, the chest, which descended in the Spitler family, failed to sell at estimate $40/60,000.
“The best things brought healthy prices,” New York dealer Guy Bush said afterwards. “The high end of the market is still there. Those buyers have lots of money and desire great stuff. “
The Crawford Collection
Buyers gave the thumb’s up to the Robert E. Crawford Collection, which concluded the uneven week of Americana sales on October 13. Unlike Sotheby’s anemic various-owners sale just two days earlier, the Crawford collection attracted broad participation. Of the 288 lots offered, 81 percent sold. The $1,586,400 total reached 91 percent of pre-sale estimate, suggesting some softening of prices, but no lack of interest.
Richmond, Va., collector Bobby Crawford built an eclectic collection mingling humble utilitarian rdf_Descriptions with formal Queen Anne, Chippendale and Federal furniture and English ceramics. “Impeccable condition is the inherent trait in all of Mr Crawford’s pieces,” said John Nye, the Sotheby’s specialist in charge of the sale. He also noted Crawford’s lifelong dedication to American antiques, which he pursued in a thoughtful, knowledgeable way.
The son of a noted collector, Crawford was praised by antiques dealers as a discerning judge of the material. “The collection contained a lot of clean, authentic pieces. Crawford purchased with a good eye,” said Yardley, Penn. dealer Clarence Prickett, who bought a handful of rdf_Descriptions. “He bought the best, in perfect condition,” said Wayne Pratt. “People got some superb buys,” noted the Woodbury, Conn. dealer, who believes that the sales were disrupted by the simultaneous unfolding of war overseas and terrorist reprisals at home.
The day’s top lot was a mahogany desk-and-bookcase from Massachusetts, circa 1770, featuring a scrolled pediment, paneled doors, reeded columns, and a fan-carved prospect door. It sold to a Connecticut dealer for $203,750 (est $100/150,000), making what was presumably a handsome profit for Crawford. The same buyer claimed a Regency brass-mounted and figured mahogany three-pedestal dining table, ex-collection of John Walton, for $32,375 ($40/60,000).
Other key pieces included a Philadelphia mahogany Pembroke table with a serpentine top, molded legs and crossed stretchers. It sold to a private collector for roughly its high estimate, $52,500.
A Boston reverse serpentine chest of drawers, circa 1770, brought slightly less than low estimate, $38,125; a Massachusetts bowfront chest, circa 1800, with its original Federal style repousse and cast brass hardware, achieved a bid of $32,950 ($20/30,000); and a Philadelphia Chippendale mahogany candlestand with birdcage support mad $29,500 ($25/35,000). All went to retail buyers.
Crawford clearly lavished at least as much attention on his ceramics collection, which featured Dutch and English Delftware; English agateware, creamware, Whieldon, Jackfield, pearlware, Prattware, yellow-glazed Staffordshire, and Mochaware; a few pieces of Chinese Export porcelain; English drinking glasses; and American porcelain, stoneware and redware.
A 6 ¾ -inch flask in the form of a girl in a green dress, made circa 1800 by the Moravian community in North Carolina, sold to an Atlanta dealer for $31,800 ($25/35,000.) Decorated in cobalt blue with a roaring lion, a six-gallon butterchurn made by C.W. Braun of Buffalo, N.Y. brought $26,050 ($12/18,000). And a 9 1/2-inch scenic pitcher made by Tucker, the United States’ first porcelain manufacturer, fetched $18,000 ($18/15,000.)
Also of note was an English agate scalloped dish, $9,000; a Staffordshire earthenware melon teapot, $6,600; a pair of Pratt type cornucopia wall pockets, dated 1808, ex-collection Wynn Sayman Antiques, $4,800; a Mochaware tureen and cover, $5,400; a Chinese Export punch bowl decorated with hunting scenes, $10,200; and a group of six colorless glass decanters dating to the Nineteenth Century, $12,000.
Outstanding prices were achieved for baskets, boxes, hooked rugs and treenware. Two Moravian woven splint buttons baskets dating to the Nineteenth Century fetched $5,400 and $3,300 each; a Federal brass-inlaid box dated 1828 and decorated with various inlays, including a dove, went for $6,600; and a bust portrait silhouette of Joshua Bailey, dated 1835, together with a group of hollow-cut and watercolor silhouette portraits, including a work by “The Puffy Sleeve Artist,” sold for $4,800.
Most remarkable of all was the covered burlwood bowl and covered wooden canister that sold together for $20,300, and the early Twentieth Century hooked rug of a crowing rooster that went for $35,250 to Woodbury, Conn. dealer David Schorsch. Pantry boxes also held their value. A three-fingered blue Shaker box fetched $10,800, while a slightly larger box painted a cheerful red, yellow and black soared to $10,200.
Rounding out Crawford’s sumptuous house cleaning was a six-piece silver tea and coffee service designed by John C. Moore for Tiffany & Co., circa 1865, $42,150 ($10/15,000); and a 11- by 7 1/2-foot Tabriz carpet, sold to a dealer for $31,800 ($7/10,000).
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