Published: September 13, 2022
Review & Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Steenburgh Auctioneers
PIKE, N.H. – If you like old-fashioned country auctions, you would have enjoyed Steenburgh’s September 4 sale. The firm does not utilize internet bidding. Absentee bids had been left on several items, but no phone bidding was available. There was no pre-printed sales list, items were sold in a random order and if you wanted a particular item to be brought up and sold, that could easily be done. Then you paid and took your stuff home. There were no descriptions of items, so you were buying what you were looking at. The sale was under two large tents in a field in Pike, which was once home to one of the largest manufacturers of abrasive sharpening stones in the United States. You had to be there, and you had to have previewed the offerings in person.
As a result, it was standing room only for the crowd at the sale. Nearly all the merchandise was fresh from homes in the White Mountains, the Lakes region and the Connecticut River valley. Material for this sale came from about 30 consignors. Headlining the sale was a group of White Mountain paintings from the collection of the late Dick Hamilton. There was a selection of garden furniture and accessories, a good group of early glass bottles, woodworking tools, several advertising signs, early furniture, painted woodenware, silver and even two Old Town canoes. Josh Steenburgh grew up in the auction and antiques world. His father, Archie Steenburgh, started the business, conducting his first auction in 1972, and Josh has been helping since he was about ten years old.
Dick Hamilton collected White Mountain paintings, photographs and ephemera for nearly half a century. Much of his collection was donated to the Museum of the White Mountains at Plymouth State University. His particular interest was the Old Man of The Mountain and the nearby Profile House, one of the largest of the Grand Hotels which burned to the ground in 1923. He was the driving force behind the Old Man of The Mountain Legacy Fund, which created the Old Man of The Mountain Profile Plaza in Franconia Notch, N.H.
Steenburgh sold a portion of Hamilton’s collection at a previous sale, but after his death in July of this year, some of Hamilton’s favorite paintings now hit the block. These paintings hung in his room at the assisted living facility where he spent the last year or so of his life. The highlight was a painting of Mount Lafayette by Edward Hill (1843-1923), which sold for $12,075, the highest priced item in the sale. Mount Lafayette is in Franconia Notch, not far from the Old Man site. From 1877 to 1892, Hill was artist-in-residence at the Profile House. The surrounding area provided subjects for his paintings that proved popular with the hotel guests – Profile Lake, the Old Man of the Mountain, Echo Lake, Eagle Cliff, The Flume and Mount Lafayette. Guests bought directly from Hill’s studio on the grounds of the hotel.
Also from Hamilton’s collection was a rare pair of works of Eagle Cliff by Samuel Gerry (1813-1891). Sold as one lot was an oil on canvas of Eagle Cliff, also in Franconia Notch, and a charcoal study for that painting. At auctions, we often hear comments like “all it takes is two bidders,” most often referring to a high price paid for an object. In the case of these two items, that comment could be changed to “you need two bidders.” This lot sold for $3,450 to the same person who bought the Edward Hill painting mentioned above. The buyer showed us his list of what he was willing to spend for the items he wanted. The amount he was willing to pay for this Gerry lot was five times higher than its price and he commented, “Where were the other bidders?”
Among the interesting items in the sale were some unusual outdoor garden fixtures. An early headless marble statue topped the category, selling for $5,175. Perhaps the most unusual was a group of three large round carved marble spheres that sold for $2,875. Marks of the stonecutter’s tools were very prominent. There was also a collection of stone mill wheels. Some were sold individually, with prices in the low to mid-hundreds. As he was selling these, Josh Steenburgh commented, “There were two more but they were huge – no way to move them.”
Drawing interest from multiple bidders was a weathered, carved granite fence post about 6½ feet tall. It had six holes carved through it for the fence rails and a pointed end for hammering into the ground. It realized $2,645. The buyer said he’d probably have a base made for it so he could stand it upright in his garden. A large sewer tile tree stump sold for $546. Both the buyer and the underbidder agreed that it had probably been made by the Portland Stoneware Company.
Continuing with the outdoor theme was a large collection of rustic twig or Adirondack furniture, including a chaise lounge that earned $403 and a table and set of six chairs that brought only $173. There were two Old Town canoes: a 12-foot one sold for $345 and a 17-foot one sold for $374 to the same buyer. Probably not an outdoor item, but displayed with those items was a 4-foot-long sink carved from one block of marble. Soapstone sinks turn up now and then but rarely do marble ones. It sold for $604.
Offerings of early bottles and flasks, some more rare than others, primarily came from two consignors. Two Stoddard cornucopia flasks brought $92. Two large ink bottles with “American Green Writing Ink” labels sold for $460. A Keene sunburst flask reached $230, two Log Cabin bitters bottles earned $316, and an early seal bottle earned $115. There were more.
A tin Socony motor oils sign brought $489. It was one of several signs offered. A large Central Vermont Public Service Corporation sign sold for $460, and a large Amoco sign went to an absentee bidder for $690. One of the first items sold was an early tin sign for a Ford dealership in Lancaster, N.H., that sold Fordson tractors and Lincolns. There were also some early license plates, including a green 1926 New Hampshire enameled plate with the image of the Old Man of The Mountain in white. It sold for $207. The plate with that decoration was only made for that one year.
Items with make-do repairs are almost a collecting category of their own as many ceramic bowls and pitchers, as well as lighting devices, show Yankee ingenuity in making a broken item useful. If there is such a category, this sale had a piece of furniture for that collector. It was a 300-year-old Queen Anne one-drawer tavern table. All four legs ended in wooden “collars” about 6 inches tall. It was about as “primitive” as you can get, and someone took it home after paying $2,185 for it.
A few days after the sale, Josh Steenburgh commented, “Everything went right for us. We’re always hopeful and it all worked for this one. The day’s weather was perfect for an outdoor sale, the crowd was so large that I’m glad some people brought their own chairs. We worked on the sale for about four months and it’s great when it all works. There were about 155 bidders and seemed like close to that number of invoices. There were nice complimentary emails the morning after. I know that selling on the internet is the thing these days, but this system has worked for us for more than 40 years. We don’t see a good reason to change.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.steenburgh.com or 603-303-3072.
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