“It was a sale filled with surprises,” commented Cowan’s decorative arts specialist Diane Wachs after the most recent auction of Paintings, Furniture and Decorative Arts on February 17. The ice storm that took place during the week leading up to the auction was one of the surprises, an unwelcome one at that, as was the light snow that fell throughout the Ohio Valley the morning of the sale. Neither, however, did little to deter the large crowd of anxious buyers that packed themselves into the sales room at the Starlite Ballroom.
Coming on the heels of its highly successful sales in January, Cowan’s once again posted strong results, with the auction gross coming in at just under $1 million.
The sale featured a diversified assortment of antiques that ranged from high style Twentieth Century decorative arts such as Tiffany and Handel lamps to Eighteenth Century country furniture and accessories. Items from numerous collections were offered among the 800-plus lots, including an assortment of lamps and decorative accessories from the former First National Bank of Freemont, Ind., a large selection of Americana was consigned by old-time Ohio collectors Shelia and John Gorkis, porcelains from the Prudence Lamb collection and a select assortment of silver from the collection of Elizabeth and Arlyn Wagner.
In a transitional period regarding their January and February auctions, Cowan’s Americana and Decorative Arts specialist Diane Wachs commented that this year’s sales were more “period specific” with materials post-1840 offered during the January auction then a cataloged sale geared more toward American items and pieces made for the American market in February.
The first surprise of the auction came as the first lot was offered, with a monumental oil on canvas landscape by George Loring Brown creating quite a stir. Depicting a Florence landscape, the luminous painting was cataloged as being the “only view of Florence having surfaced in recent times.” Brown, having remained in Europe for 20 years, is considered to be among the most accomplished American artists that lived abroad.
With seven phone bidders on the line, Cowan opened the lot at $5,000 against an $8/10,000 presale estimate. The lot was immediately hit by one of the telephone bidders at $5,500, only to be countered right away by a bidder seated in the rear of the gallery. Bids bounced back and forth between the two until the $10,000 mark where the bidder in the gallery dropped from the action. A new phone bidder jumped in and the two telephones battled to a selling price of $20,700.
Several pieces from the Wagner collection of silver surprised not only the buyers in the gallery, but also Wachs. “Good silver from the Aesthetic Movement typically does well,” she said, “but there were several pieces in this auction that did exceptionally well.”
Leading the group was a rare sterling tray in the Japanese style by the Massachusetts firm of Whiting, ornately decorated with two swimming turtles amid swirling waters and seaweed. Hand hammered, the tray shot past the $500/700 presale estimates, selling at $14,950. Another of the lots that took off was a Nineteenth Century equestrian prize cup in the form of a small handled cup. It was decorated by Georgia silversmith E. Johnston with repousse scrolls forming a panel, inscribed with the horse’s name, and an engraved scene with a prancing horse above. Estimated at $1/1,500, the lot was actively bid by several on the telephones with it bringing $13,800.
An Art Nouveau epergne by Boyton also surpassed estimates as it sold for $6,325. A rare and desirable Kentucky punch ladle marked S. Wheritt brought $3,105, an English Aesthetic Movement flagon with unusual snake handle $1,840, and a six-pint Rococo ewer by Whiting realized $1,495.
An interesting crossover piece of silver was a rare Japanese Export punch bowl, also consigned from the Wagner collection. Profusely decorated with repousse worked waves and a three-toed dragon, the rare double walled bowl sold well above the $5/7,000 estimates, bringing $13,225.
Perhaps the most historically important piece in the auction was a gold pocket watch that had been presented by Benjamin Franklin to his nephew, Jonathan Williams. The gold cased watch retained the original crystal and enameled face with Roman numerals and filigree decorated second hand. In two parts, a protective gold outer case was engraved with a presentation from Franklin to Williams and was dated 1771. The interior of the outer case carried the printed paper labels of three Philadelphia watchmakers who had serviced the watch between 1807 and 1840.
Williams, who was born in Boston and schooled in London, returned from abroad to join the Continental Congress in 1776, and soon after he was commissioned to become an arms inspector in France, inspecting supplies being sold to the American revolutionaries. Upon returning from France, Williams was appointed a judge in Philadelphia, where he was also known to have assisted Franklin with some of his scientific experiments. He was later appointed the superintendent at West Point by Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Shortly thereafter, Congress established West Point as a US Military Academy and Williams subsequently became the academy’s first superintendent.
The rare and historically important watch opened for bidding at $22,500 and it progressed in $500 increments at a slow but steady pace. Only two phone lines were active and several on the Internet tried to get in on the action. After a volley of bids, competition narrowed to a buyer on the net and a phone bidder with the Internet bidder claiming the lot at $34,500, surprisingly, within estimates.
An impressive collection of leaded glass and reverse painted lamps by Tiffany, Pairpoint and Handel also attracted a good deal of attention. Consigned from the former First National Bank of Freemont, Ind., the lamps and some other decorative arts pieces wound up on the auction block amid a slight amount of controversy. According to the auction gallery, the former president of the bank had been collecting Handel and Tiffany lamps, great Revival style furniture, bronzes and furnishing seven different banks with antiques for more than 20 years. At some point, the accounting firm for the bank changed and bank examiners were called in. They allegedly discovered that there were “two sets of books,” that had been kept by the bank’s president, who reportedly disappeared shortly thereafter, and the collection was ultimately consigned to Cowan’s.
Leading the group, and the top lot of the auction was a 20-inch Tiffany hanging shade in an overall green mottled geometric design. Retaining the original bronze cap and chain, the lamp was further decorated with an articulated curtain of four rows of tiled glass that hung below the attractive shade. Bidding on the lot was active with it selling at the high estimate of $46,000. A Tiffany Acorn lamp with mottled green and yellow tiles also did well selling at $24,150.
Ten Handel lamps were offered from the First National Bank collection, including a rare 15-inch Connecticut River scenic reverse painted shade on a bronze base that led the group at $9,775. A chipped obverse landscape lamp did well at $9,200, a Grecian Ruins lamp brought $6,900 and birds in flight lamp was hammered down at $6,200.
The bank collection also contained a nice selection of Pairpoint puffy lamps, with a rare Roses lamp topping the group. Estimated at $4/6,000, the lamp sold at $9,775, a Hummingbird puffy brought $4,887, and a Papillon and Roses lamp realized $4,200. A pair of dichroic floral boudoir lamps with lavender poppies against a linen background, estimated at $2/4,000, sold at $3,600.
Two bronzes depicting Native Americans by Duchoiselle surprised many in the crowd as they each sold for more than ten times the high estimate. Both consigned from the bank collection, the first depicted a “romanticized classical” female figure of an Indian maiden seated in a canoe, measuring 24 inches high and 35 inches long. It sold for $25,300, while the Indian warrior bronze, measuring 25 inches high by 42 inches long, realized $26,450.
A good selection of clocks crossed the block with a rare Virginia tall case clock leading the group. The Federal inlaid clock with flaring French feet, retaining its statuesque original height of 9 feet, was signed “P. Henneberger” on the nicely decorated moon-phase face dial. Fitted with a brass eight-day British bell strike movement, the clock also had a sweep second hand and a calendar.
Bidding on the clock opened at $4,000 and was jumped by the Internet bidders right away to $5,500. A phone bidder hit the lot at $6,000, countered by a bidder standing against the rear wall of the gallery. Bids bounced back and forth between the two until a bidder in the front of the room jumped into the action at $17,000. At $28,000, the bidder in the front of the room dropped from the action and the new phone bidder hit the lot. The bid was once again countered by the gentleman in the rear of the room with it selling there for $33,350, more than three times the high presale estimate.
While the grotesque stoneware face jug had attracted quite a bit of interest prior to the auction, it surprised many when they got their first up-close look at it. Appearing in the advertisements to have a salt glaze, the piece was actually in a high glaze, giving the piece the appearance of a white finish, similar to a Bristol glaze. Decorated in typical style with cobalt cloverlike leaf clusters under the spout and on the sides, the face was executed with carved and applied clay, also highlighted in blue.
The pitcher had been consigned from the extensive accumulations of a local Northern Ohio picker. Termed by auctioneer Wes Cowan as a “doorknocker who had accumulated a huge assortment of items,” the rare pitcher was delivered to the auction gallery amid a load of furniture.
The pitcher was unlike most known examples with one local collector stating that he had “seen a couple of related examples and believe they were made in the White Cottage area of Northeastern Ohio.” Everyone that looked at it had a different viewpoint and Wes Cowan stated after the auction that new information has led him to believe it was made by a North Carolina potter.
Estimated at $1,500․2,000, the pitcher was opened by Cowan for bidding at $2,500 and the lot took off from there with two phone bidders methodically trading bids back and forth. Cowan let the two take their time as he moved from one phone to the other in advances of $500 with the lot finally selling at $21,275.
A pair of portraits painted by Munson attracted quite a bit of attention prior to the sale. Executed in a folkly style, the gentleman was depicted seated at a table with a red drape and window behind him. Marked on the verso “painted by Miss L.L. Munson, Weedsport,” the pair sold reasonably at $2,645. Another sleeper in the sale was an early folk portrait of a woman seated in front of window with an exterior scene. In poor condition, heavily soiled and with some paint flaking, the painting went out at $1,035.
Several weathervanes were sold, with a leaping stag vane leading the group. The zinc headed stag vane with the majority of the gilt still intact measured 30 inches long and it was bid to $20,700. A large cow vane sold at $13,800, a Black Hawk horse weathervane by Harris in a nice mellow yellow surface did well at $7,475, a Rochester rooster weathervane that was missing its tail made $3,450, and an eagle vane with overall green patina hammered down at $2,185.
A small Dutch Rozenburg eggshell Art Nouveau vase was another item to sail past estimates as it brought a surprising $11,400.
A group of Bennington book flasks in flint enamel glazes did well. With six phone bidders lined up, the largest of the group, 11 inches tall, was marked “Bennington Battle” and it sold after a protracted bid battle for $4,025. Two 7½-inch book flasks were sold, the first marked “Bennington Companion G” was knocked down at $2,185, while a “Departed Spirits” flask realized $1,150. Two 5½-inch flasks also did well with a “Departed Spirits” selling at $977, and a “Departed Spirits G” flask at $488.
The next auction at Cowan’s will feature American Indian and Western Art March 31, and a clocks and watch auction will be conducted April 12. The next Decorative Arts sale at Cowan’s will take place May 11. For further information, 513-871-1670, or www.cowans.com.