Published: November 6, 2007
“I have not had such an exciting time in a very long time,” Alvan Bisnoff said on Saturday morning, October 27, as he wandered through the exhibition of his collection that was about to be sold by Northeast Auctions at the Radisson Hotel. With his wife, Claude, by his side, it was like a final farewell to a grouping of theorems, important paintings and watercolors, several weathervanes, Windsor chairs and other furniture, folk art carvings and a large cigar store Indian holding court in the middle of the display. All had been a part of their lives for the past 20 to 30 years of collecting.
At 11 am, auctioneer Ronald Bourgeault announced the terms of the sale, spoke briefly about the collection, and asked for a bid for the first lot, a stoneware crock with applied handles from Bennington, Vt., stamped “J. Norton & Co., Bennington, Vt.” It was knocked down for $406, including the buyer’s premium. Close to two and one-half hours later, three baskets, including one melon form, circa 1860‱890, sold for $580, ending the sale of the Bisnoff collection. In between those two lots, 152 objects crossed the block for a total of $2.75 million, including the buyer’s premium.
All prices noted in this review, as well as those with pictures, include the buyer’s premium. Northeast charges 16 percent for the first $100,000, and 10 percent for any amount over that. A small number of the lots carried estimates, but the majority of the sale was conducted with no reserves.
Several lots of delft were early in the sale, with an English polychrome flower-brick, probably Liverpool, circa 1740‱750, selling for $4,060, and a pair of English polychrome plates, possibly Liverpool, circa 1750‱770, 8½ inches in diameter, bringing $1,392.
Game boards proved to still be popular with collectors and four were offered, including a Parcheesi board with central cross, 25 by 25¼ inches, with yellow circles in the corners and a red path for the players to follow. A star in the center “‘home” area was on a blue ground; the board went for $18,560. A bid of $19,200 took another Parcheesi board, two-sided, 18¾ by 19 inches, with red decoration in the corners, “HOME” in the center, and a strong yellow ground.
Several lots of stoneware and redware were followed by a redware figure of a reclining dog, circa 1870, possibly John Bell, Pennsylvania, 5½ inches long. With a Phil Bradley provenance, the piece sold for $7,888.
The first picture in the sale was one of the works by Jacob Maentel, a full-length profile, portrait of a lady, Pennsylvania, circa 1815. It measured 11 by 8 inches and sold for $7,830 to David Wheatcroft, one of the many purchases he would make at the sale. A rare Queen Anne mirror with shaped crest in the original black paint with gilt decoration, 19½ by 11 inches, was estimated at $2/3,000 and sold for $10,440. It was one of the many pieces in the sale carrying the provenance of Mary Allis, an early collector and dealer in folk art who worked with the Bisnoffs in building their collection.
More than a dozen theorems were in the sale and several were passed until along came lot 640. This one, from the collection of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, stirred lots of interest both on the phones and in the room, ending at $64,960. Half a dozen samplers were in the sale, the top lot by Elizabeth Cutts of Berwick, Maine. This silk on linsey-woolsey piece, measuring 26¼ by 20½ inches, was from the Theodore H. Kapnek collection and sold for $51,040. It carried a presale estimate of $25/40,000. A Portsmouth, N.H., sampler by Deborah Laighton, dated October 15, 1818‱819, worked at Mary Ann Smith’s School, 17½ by 23 inches, also from the Kapnek collection, sold for $11,600 and will return to a New Hampshire foundation.
Several portraits by Ammi Phillips were in the sale. The first one offered was of John Kenyon, circa 1819, oil on canvas, 30½ by 25 inches. It sold for $27,840, as did the next lot, portrait of Lucy Hamilton, half-length, portraying her as a young lady holding a red bound book, oil on canvas, 32½ by 27½ inches. It was purchased by the Bisnoffs at the Philadelphia Antiques Show in 1985.
A bid of $32,480 took the second weathervane offered in the sale, a full-bodied leaping stag over a log with deep foliage, probably by Harris & Co., Boston, 28½ inches high and 31 inches long. The Goddess of Liberty weathervane was passed at $50,000, but the eagle with raised wings, attributed to A.L. Jewell & Co., 28½ inches long, sold for $15,080.
The portrait of two sisters seated in an interior with matching dresses and white aprons, oil on canvas, 23½ by 27½ inches, went for $44,080. This painting was sold from the collection of Mrs Lester Beall at Skinner, November 1986. A pair of leather fire buckets, Charles Hutchens, 1813, with eagle decoration, brought $8,120, and a pair of portraits by Erastus Salisbury Field of Dr Lyman Case and Emily Whiting Case, oil on canvas, 31 by 26 inches, sold to a phone bidder for $31,900. The provenance lists Mary Allis.
Among the furniture in the sale was a Philadelphia bow back Windsor bench, circa 1780‱800, 695/8 inches long, attributed by Windsor expert Charles Santore to either Joseph Henzey or John B. Ackley, both of Philadelphia. It sold for $48,720. Other Windsors included a Connecticut bow back armchair, circa 1795‱800, for $47,560 to David Schorsch. The provenance lists Marguerite Riordan and this, along with all of the Windsors in the sale, was illustrated in The Windsor Style in America by Charles Santore. A Philadelphia low back Windsor armchair, circa 1765‱780, marked “A.C.J. Painter 1888” under the seat, sold for $51,040 with a James and Nancy Glazer provenance.
The pair of Bellamy carved and painted facing eagle plaques, 42½ inches long, did not sell, but the view of West Point from Constitution Island by Thomas Chambers, oil on canvas, 21½ by 29¾ inches, brought $69,600. A bid of $37,120 from David Schorsch took the New England white painted and decorated dressing table, Rhode Island, 1810‱820, with a silhouette of a lady on the back splashboard. A Nineteenth Century carved and painted stylized figure of a dove from the collection of Howard and Jean Lipman, 6 inches high, sold for $8,120, followed by a painted and carved rooster, 6½ inches high, Mary Allis collection, also for $8,120.
One of the works by Ruth Henshaw Bascom, bust-length profile portrait of a young girl with landscape background, pastel and pencil on paper, 16 by 12 inches, brought $37,120. A number of carved decoys were in the sale; the top lot among them a shorebird attributed to the Verity family of Seaford, Long Island, circa 1890. With carved raised wings, carved eyes and fine stipple painting on the body, 9¾ inches high and 11¾ inches long, it sold for $37,120. David Wheatcroft bought lot 718, a race horse “Houdini” weathervane, 34 inches long, for $62,640, and three phone bidders competed for a pair of carved and painted drake and hen red-breasted shell-drake, Sag Harbor merganser decoys. The provenance lists James Abbe and the pieces measured 8 inches high and 18 inches long. The winner paid $10,440.
An important trade sign that once hung in the collection of Stewart Gregory was a 12-foot, 9-inch-long American double-barreled log rifle, gilt painted carved wood, that sold for $32,480. In talking about this piece after the sale, Alvan Bisnoff said, “I am sure glad it sold and that I do not have to hang it up again.” An Antonio Jacobsen signed portrait of “Young America,” dated 1895, oil on board measuring 18 by 30 inches, went for $24,360 to David Wheatcroft.
A few pieces of furniture were offered toward the end of the sale, one a New England Federal paint decorated three-drawer blanket chest from the collection of Howard and Jean Lipman, circa 1820, that sold over the phone for $41,760 to David Schorsch. A pair of portraits from the personal collection of Mary Allis, oil on board, 13½ by 9½ inches, by William W. Kennedy, brought $24,360, while a New England watch hutch with the original surface, circa 1780, 17 inches high and 9¼ inches wide, sold for $8,700.
During a break after the Bisnoff collection was sold, Ron Bourgeault said, “It went very well, Alvan and Claude were fun to work with, and I really loved this sale.” So did a lot of other people, both in the room and on the phones.
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