Published: August 17, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Stair Gallery
HUDSON, N.Y. – An exceptionally detailed English carved bone three-masted prisoner of war ship set the high watermark early in the August 5 Americana at Stair auction at Stair Gallery when it sold for $28,290, well past its $5/10,000 estimate. The model, which the seller had acquired from an estate in Detroit, Mich., measured 32 by 42 by 15¼ inches overall and sat on an inlaid base with canted corners. It was signed by the maker, Daniel E. Matthews, whose identity as a prisoner of war, Stair’s director of decorative arts Muffie Cunningham said, was not recorded by French or British record keepers. In the end, an American collector on the phone had the winning bid.
The ship was one of nearly 350 lots to cross the block in a sale that saw a sell-through rate of more than 96 percent and a total of $632,534; and Colin Stair commented positively the week after the sale.
“The American decorative and fine arts market, while still a burgeoning market for us, continues to perform well. Being selective and keeping conservative estimates is key. Some of the top lots in the sale reached those prices through robust bidding online and also with new and existing bidders on the telephone. The most exciting part for me was to see the section of later Nineteenth Century works that we assembled, which is not unfamiliar territory for us. With the input of many specialists, including David Petrovksy, this market continues to be a strong one for us, and one that we are keenly interested in pursuing for the future.”
Three collections of American and English Aesthetic Movement furniture and decorative arts provided not just a sizeable and distinct section of the sale but also several of the highest results of the day. Most notably among these was a large ebony, bone and marquetry and parcel-gilt rectangular mirror with canted corners by Herter Brothers. The back of the mirror was inscribed in pencil “Mr Sloan” and impressed “63.” It went to an online bidder from the trade for $25,030.
The mirror was not the only lot in the sale linked to the Herter Brothers; another ten lots were by or attributed to the firm, which was one of the most elite companies producing furnishings in late Nineteenth Century New York City. An ebonized side chair with marquetry inlaid tablet crest similar to a chair at the Metropolitan Museum of Art exceeded expectations to bring $12,300 from a trade buyer bidding online.
The remaining Herter pieces achieved prices ranging from $308 for an inlaid oak frame possibly by Herter to $7,380 for an inlaid writing table attributed to Herter.
Cunningham said that with so many of Stair’s bidders and buyers relying on the online catalog, they get considerably fewer inquiries than they used to and were pleasantly surprised at the strong results achieved by the Aesthetic Movement things, though she noted the quality of the offerings was very good and the market responded accordingly.
English Aesthetic Movement pieces – and Arts and Crafts works – found a ready audience with crossover interest from Americana collectors. Leading those pieces was an ebonized and polychrome painted cabinet that had been in a private collection from Johnstown, N.Y., that sold to a private collector, bidding online, for $11,070. An Aesthetic Movement inlaid, ebonized and upholstered sofa by Lamb of Manchester, also from the Johnstown, N.Y., collection, was, in Cunningham’s opinion, “beautifully inlaid and elegant,” and sold for $7,380.
For English Arts and Crafts, it would be hard to beat a carved oak center table with eight legs that brought $9,840 or a library table by Ambroise Heal that stretched to $6,765.
A 27-panel set of woodblock prints of views of North America made by Zuber and Company sold a little below its $12/18,000 estimate, selling for $11,070 to a private collector bidding online. Cunningham thought that the scenes, based on views originally done by Jean-Julien Deltil (1791-1863), did not resonate with bidders as much as some of Zuber’s more fantastical paper panels that Stair has sold previously.
The lot with arguably the best backstory was a Chinese export carved hardwood and upholstered parlor set that Stair was selling on behalf of the Historical Society of Newburgh, N.Y. The suite had originally been commissioned by the John Aspinall family, through an English dealer, to be made in China around 1880 and imported on one of the Aspinall family’s merchant ships. The Aspinall family continued to make their fortune by inventing Fabrikoid, a waterproof artificial leather that was used in carriage upholstery, luggage, baseball coverings, shoe and hat linings, car tops, among other things. By 1906, the company reportedly made enough Fabrikoid to stretch from Newburgh to New York City and back three times.
John Aspinall’s daughter, Bessie Aspinall, married Colonel Hayden Wagner and moved to another mansion in Newburgh; she sold her parent’s house to the Union Presbyterian Church in 1957, when the parlor set was given to the Historical Society. Now being deaccessioned by the Historical Society, Stair estimated the armchairs and settee at $1/3,000 and was happy that it found a home with a local buyer, who paid $10,455 for the set.
A large portion of the 14 weathervanes on offer were from a Columbia County, N.Y., collector; prices ranged from $369 for a sheet metal vane in the form of a glassblower to $7,380 for a sheet copper directional weathervane. A running horse vane attributed to A.L. Jewell trotted to $4,613 and a running fox example, in the manner of Fiske closed at $3,198.
Another group that Cunningham said outperformed expectations was a selection of two dozen English woolwork pictures in which most exceeded their high estimates. “They did incredibly well. When you get a core group of a certain type of object, it really does draw a larger crowd of bidders,” she said. With the group having an aggregate estimate of $16,1/22,300 and a total price realized of $53,013, that would be an understatement.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Stair will offer “Thursday Morning at Stair” on September 9 and Henry Koehler’s collection on September 22.
For more information, 518-751-1000 or www.stairgalleries.com.
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