Published: April 1, 2008
Forecasts of wicked weather and a shaky US economy were disconcerting, but proved no match for the superb property offered at Rago’s Craftsman Auction weekend March 8 and 9.
The $4.2 million sale toppled the high set in Rago’s March 2007 sale. This year, records were broken throughout both days for pottery, tiles, art glass and metalwork.
“This auction was one of the most nervous-making and one of the most gratifying of my career. Nervous-making because of the current economy, gratifying because the quality of the property with which we were entrusted won the day as we knew it should,” said David Rago. “There wasn’t a sour note in the sale. It just sang.”
Ninety percent of lots sold as a packed house jousted with nearly 200 phone bidders and 1,000 online bidders, the latter winning a record 20 percent of property offered. Rago attributes this in good part to the sale’s evolution beyond Arts and Crafts. The inclusion of other essential movements of early Twentieth Century design has made for not only a more diverse and interesting sale, but broadened its appeal to international buyers. This was reflected in strong prices for Lalique, Zsolnay and other art glass, as well as British ceramics.
The first 245 lots sold came from the collection of Alexandra and the late Sidney Sheldon and brought $1 million. The collection’s star attraction, a Tiffany Studios Poppy lamp with twisted vine bronze base, sold on the phone for $144,000.
The Sheldons’ best piece of Grueby, a massive vase decorated with full height tooled and applied leaves, brought $15,600, and best piece of Van Briggle, a tall and early factory lamp base with four buttressed handles carved with tall flowers, brought $15,600.
Three of the top furniture lots came from the Sheldons as well, all by Gustav Stickley: an inlaid drop front desk designed by Harvey Ellis that sold for $19,200, an inlaid occasional table designed by Ellis that sold for $24,000 and a set of six tall back spindle dining room chairs at $31,200.
Arthur Baggs joined Marblehead Pottery soon after it started; as artist and owner, he brought this small company to its heyday. His granddaughter and her family, who brought a significant collection of Baggs’ work to Rago, watched from the audience as one of his finest tiles brought the record price of $114,000 and the original artwork that accompanied it, $24,000.
A third fine collection †some 70 lots in all †came from Roycroft collector Kevin McConnell. Highlighting this grouping of metalware, furniture and smalls was a Secessionist hammered copper candelabra with cabochons and three stems, circa 1910‱5. It sold for $144,000 against an estimate of $20/30,000. One of only three known examples, this was the first David Rago had seen; it broke the record for Roycroft metalware.
American Art pottery and tile is always a strong category. The headline lots: a tall vase with metalwork by Van Briggle that brought $90,000, a corseted Teco vase that sold for $60,000, a North Dakota School of Mines bulbous vase for $7,800, an Adelaide Robineau ovoid vase for $21,600, a Rookwood two-handled vase painted by Matt Daly with an image of “Running Antelope Oncpapa” for $24,000, and a Roseville Futura “Tank” vase that set a new high at $22,800. Tile standouts, besides the Marblehead, were a single Van Briggle tile for $14,400 and a 25-tile Grueby frieze, a record-setter at $102,000.
The auction’s Arts and Crafts furniture was brought to market by specialist Jerry Cohen and he was delighted with the results. Sales were strong from entry level objects to pieces for serious collectors with prices averaging midestimate. Including the Sheldon property, furniture was 96 percent sold and brought in $668,940. “This shows a solid market across the full spectrum of buyers,” said Cohen.
Art glass performed well, led by a collection of Durand with two temple jars fetching $18,600.
Other highlights included a Seuss lamp, Sheldon collection, at $15,600; a Handel cattail table lamp for $36,000, a hammered Roycroft humidor for $28,800, a small Californian basket from a Yokut weaver for $10,200, an early plate by Mary Chase Perry for $5,700, and a Martin Brothers grotesque bird jar for $39,000.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.ragoarts.com or 866-RAGOARTS.
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