Published: October 31, 2006
If The Frank Jones Center had suddenly come under attack on Thursday, October 12, those inside the facility would have had nothing to worry about. For the place was filled with enough guns, swords, tomahawks and other weapons to hold off any siege for weeks. More than 1,000 lots, 533 of them sold in the morning by Bonhams & Butterfields, were in the final two sales of the historic William H. Guthman Collection.
“This sale is a tribute to the fine eye and passion of the late Bill Guthman,” Malcolm Barber, CEO and chief auctioneer of Bonhams & Butterfield said. “With 100 percent of the lots sold, the setting of world records, and with a crowd of illustrious experts, dealers and collectors assembled for the event, it is clear that the sale was a tremendous success.”
This was the second “White Glove Sale” (meaning all lots sold) that the auction house has conducted in the Northeast this fall. The other was the Frank Cooke Collection of Rolls-Royce and Steamers in North Brookfield, Mass.
Norm Flayderman made the trip up from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the sale and enjoyed seeing so many old friends and fellow collectors and dealers. He wrote a piece in the auction catalog, calling Bill Guthman “A Collector’s Collector,” and noting, “Bill’s career as a student, scholar, author, collector and dealer of early American arms and militaria spanned more than half a century. During those exciting years he was the acknowledged pioneer in the study and collecting of arms and artifacts relevant to American colonial and early frontier history.”
The sale totaled just over $2.5 million and got underway shortly after 9 am. Four flat TV screens were stationed about the room, each showing the lot that was being sold. Malcolm Barber started the sale and was assisted by Patrick Meade, senior vice president. The selling price for all lots includes the buyer’s premium, 17 percent for the first $100,000, and ten percent for any bid over that number.
Among the fowling guns was a British-style flintlock, circa 1765, 53 ½-inch tapered round barrel in .70 caliber smoothbore, hickory ramrod, very good condition, which sold for $18,720 against an estimate of $10/15,000. Several lots later a historic French model 1763 Charleville musket owned by Narragansett chief King Tom Ninigret, 44 ¾-inch barrel marked D at the breech, sold just under twice the high estimate at $19,890.
A lot of Kentucky rifle patchbox lids (13) and accessories, sold for $2,295; a fine American pipe tomahawk dating from the late Eighteenth Century, the head of one piece forged iron, two silver inlays, one a scalping knife and on the other side an engraved heart, age patina to iron and steel, 15 5/8 by 5 1/8 inches, sold for $64,350 against a high estimate of $50,000; and among a number of bargains in the sale was a one bid item, $58, for a socket bayonet dating from the second half of the Eighteenth Century.
A silver mounted Continental hunting sword, Eighteenth Century, slightly curved 22-inch blade with broad, shallow fuller, the pommel carved as a blackamoor’s head, sold for $7,650 against a high estimate of $2,500. A good part of the bidding for this lot was in the room, causing Malcolm Barber to motion to the row of phone bidders “be with you in a minute.” In the end, it went to the phones.
An American silver-hilted hunting sword by John Ward Gilman, dated 1795, went just over the high estimate at $17,550, and an English broadsword, early Seventeenth Century, straight 31-inch single-edged blade, sold for $5,850. A silver hilted Continental small sword with Revolutionary War association, 31-inch blade, sold in the room for $14,040, just over twice the high estimate, while a New England full wagon wheel sword, mid Eighteenth Century, slightly curved 31 5/8 -inch blade, brass hilt, maple grip, went for $12,870 to a phone bidder. This lot opened at $6,000, outdistancing the presale estimate of $3/5,000.
The high estimate was $6,000 on an American horseman’s saber by James Potter, circa 1775–83, but the bidding opened at $15,000 and did not stop until $46,800. This piece had a 35 ½-inch blade with 10-inch false edge, ribbed grip rapped with black leather, and unmounted black leather scabbard retaining the linen-backed chamois shoulder belt. Lot 161, an eagle head saber dating from the early Nineteenth Century, curved 29 1/8 -inch blade, silver plated brass hilt, proud eagle head pommel, carried a high estimate of $5,000, but sold for $21,060.
Showing the variety of the lots offered, a New England colonial halberd, mid Eighteenth Century, board 9-inch top spike with beaked point, circular piercing and upcurved arms, was estimate at $4,000 and sold for $15,210.
A grouping of spurs included a pair once belonging to a British officer, circa 1785, for $1,170, and a pair of gilt brass American officer’s spurs, first quarter of the Nineteenth Century, with upturned shanks in the form of eagle heads, went for $4,367. A British officer’s gorget and ivory binoculars of C.H. Greville, Coldstream Guards, early Nineteenth Century, sold for $3,217. Officer’s epaulets, some in the original boxes, were in the sale, with lot 229 (pictured) setting a world record for a pair of American epaulets.
The high estimate was only $5,000 on an American military embossed leather neck stock, circa 1790–1800, but the hammer fell at $19,890. This piece was embossed with a Federal eagle with shield and riband reading “Liberty or Death” flanked by various weapons, a flag, a man-of-war and an infantry bugle horn. It measures 13 inches long and was in fine condition.
An officers of diplomat’s sword baldric, circa 1812–1816, the front of belt affixed with a gilt copper plate embossed with an eagle holding arrows and olive branches and surrounded by 18 pointed stars, brought $8,775 against a high estimate of $3,000. A rum rundlet, dated 1772, wooden keg with banded decoration and flat end, had a high estimate of $400 and sold for $6,435. It measured 5 ½ inches in length. A War of 1812 tole map case belonging to Captain David Bates Douglass, US Engineers, 28 inches long, went for $4,973, just double the high estimate.
Mixed in the collection of belt plates was lot 260, a Rhode Island militia plate for the Newport Artillery Company, circa 1800, engraved with an anchor within the inscription “‘Artillery Company/incorporated AD 1741.” With a high estimate of $3,000, it sold for $19,870.
The auctioneer asked for $1,000 to open bidding on lot 267, a militia officer’s shoulder belt plate, circa 1800–1820, an oval brass plate engraved with a federal eagle with shield and E Pluribus Unum riband with 16 stars and clouds, and received a $10,000 bid from the floor. Competition on this piece did not end until $18,720.
About 50 cap plates were sold before the belt plates came along. One of the highlights was lot 333, a militia officer’s waist belt plate and belt, circa 1832–47. The plate was die-struck with a Federal eagle among clouds, rays and stars and carried an estimate of $800/1,200. The bidding opened at $1,100 and took a jump to $5,000, finally ending at $15,210.
Buttons represented included some French, some British, a set from New York State, and others dating from the Revolutionary War. A single button from an officer’s coat, Revolutionary War, Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Vose, First Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the face embossed Mass with the regiment number I, excellent condition, sold for $3,510 against a high estimate of $300.
A cased set of silver artillery instruments probably made for General Charles Fitzroy, mid Eighteenth Century, sold for $12,870; a bronze mortar/powder tester dating from the Eighteenth Century sold for $877; and the reference library of Bill Guthman, numbering between 1,500 and 2,000 volumes, had a high estimate of $15,000 and sold for $26,325. It went to one of Bill’s longtime friends, Hollis Brodrick.
About 70 documents were at the end of the sale including one on Indian affairs, John Johnson, listing 22 different points of Indian policy. It had a high estimate of $2,000 and sold for $18,720.
Sitting through the Guthman collection one could not help but reflect on the last paragraph written by Norm Flayderman in the catalog: “Nothing better illustrates the wide spectrum of interests that the material represented in this catalog, which his fellow collectors now have the opportunity to acquire… each with a provenance of having once been part of that noted collection.”
The spirit of the auction was captured in the forward to the catalog, signed by Elizabeth Stillinger Guthman, Pamela Guthman, Scott Guthman, Alice Stillinger and Amelia Stillinger. “Bill wished to have his entire collection go to auction so that those who share his devotion to the search for knowledge, art and history would have an opportunity to own the objects that sparked his imagination and enriched his life for more than fifty years. While his life will be greatly missed, his legacy is a most welcome addition to our own.”
The William H. Guthman Collection, Part II
The largest event listed on the roadside sign for The Frank Jones Function & Conference Center was for United Bingo. But on Thursday, October 12, the main event was the Guthman Auction, a sale that attracted collectors from all parts of the country. And as one person was overheard saying in the lobby, “Bill was a great collector and this is the last chance, at auction, to own one of his pieces.”
Two of the country’s major auction houses joined forces to sell the final portion of the Guthman Collection. Bonhams & Butterfields conducted Part I of the auction, selling Arms and Militaria, and Northeast Auctions followed with Part II, Militaria and Americana, that grossed $2,010,904.
Philip Zea, president of Historic Deerfield, in his “Tribute To Bill Guthman” in the auction catalog, wrote, “The crux of Bill Guthman’s world was the ‘Gun Room’ — a Cold War era bunker in the core of the house lined with peg board, painted sea-foam green, but fully obscured with thousands of artifacts from the world of the American citizen soldier and his enemies.” And it was these artifacts that people came for, left bids, or kept the phone lines busy as this historic collection moved into the hands of many, both dealers and collectors.
“Bill had a relentless passion to collect and it is almost unthinkable that all of this material came from the gun room,” Ted Trotta, a longtime friend of Bill’s, said. “His was a unique collection and Bill’s scholarship came out of these objects. He had things one never sees,” he added. In addition to the 1,000-plus lots sold on October 12, two sales had already been conducted at Sotheby’s, the first with 351 lots on January 19, 2003, followed by a large sale of documents.
“We are very pleased to have been selected to conduct part of the sale of the Guthman Collection,” Ron Bourgeault said, as he began the bidding at 2:35 pm on lot 600, Captain Abraham Foot’s carved and engraved powder horn, dated 1762. The piece was sold for $5,850, including the buyer’s premium. All prices quoted in the review include the buyer’s premium, 17 percent on the first $100,000, and ten percent on anything above that amount.
Seven more powder horn lots were sold before the category switched to military drums, including a painted militia drum, “Quincy Light Infantry,” circa 1790–1810, with red letters on a pale blue ground. It measured 19 inches high, 16 ¼ inches in diameter, and brought $3,802. John Williams’ engraved powder horn, Norwich, Conn., dated 1771, engraved with writing and four fully rigged brigs, carved with a scalloped border, 13 ½ inches long, sold for $9,945.
An assembled set of three wood militia cheesebox canteens, circa 1810–20, each painted with the initials “TRC” within a sunburst, 5 5/8 inches in diameter, sold for $2,925 and Ron Bourgeault had trouble reading the bidding number. “Just leave it on the floor so I can read it,” he suggested to the first row bidder. The canteens were followed by a painted canvas militia knapsack, Rifle cadet, Bridgewater, Mass., 1820, the flap painted with an eagle bearing a red, white and blue shield within an oval. Measuring 13 ½ by 13 inches, it sold for $28,080.
More drums were in the sale including a painted militia snare drum decorated with an eagle and shield, circa 1820, that went for $17,550, while Henry Howlett’s carved wood fife, dated 1849, sold for $3,162.
Among the helmets in the sale was lot 658, a leather light dragoon helmet with horsehair comb, circa 1815, black jacked leather surmounted by polished steel and sheet iron bands, the inside visor stamped “H. CRESSMAN,” 10 ½ inches high. The bidding was at $4,200 when one person jumped it to $10,000 but that did not fend off the competition. The final bid was $22,230.
An early woven and beaded bandolier dating from the Eighteenth Century, Eastern Woodlands/Great Lakes, 14 ½ inches long, sold for $10,530, and several lots later a portrait of Colonel James Simmons McIntosh in regulation uniform, circa 1838, 29 ¾ by 23 1/8 inches sight, oil on canvas in giltwood frame, went for $5,265.
During his collecting years Bill Guthman assembled four horns, all carved at Fort Schuylor, Rome, N.Y., between October 25 and November 18, 1780. All are remarkable for their similar depictions of buildings and towns, rivers and overviews of a fort, presumably Schuylor itself. The horns were fully engraved, one originally owned by James Nangle that sold for $5,850, another owned by Andrew Dunham at $6,435, the third belonging to Peter Vanorder, $5,325, and the last, the most popular among bidders, Enoch Leonard’s horn for $12,870.
A grouping of gentleman’s leather wallets was part of the Guthman Collection, with one example (illustrated) selling for $17,550. The next lot, also embossed “Liberty,” serrated edged flaps, opening to two compartments, sold to dealer Brian Cullity of Sagamore, Mass., for $8,775. As the hammer fell Brian commented, “Now I have the wallet, but nothing to put in it.”
Lot 742, a George III silver Indian peace medal, one side engraved with the portrait of George III, in fitted case and measuring 3 inches in diameter, went for $7,605, and among the many carved catlinite effigy pipebowls was the figure of a ram, Northern Plains/Plateau, second half of the Nineteenth Century, well patinated and measuring 3 inches long, brought $4,446.
A carved wood mask, Iroquois, mid to late Nineteenth Century, “spoon mouth” mask in natural wood with red highlights, tin eye plates, horse hair coiffeur, 10 ½ inches high, sold for $1,053. An otter skin bag, Western Great Lakes, Eighteenth Century, quilled panels on black dyed buckskin, 24 inches long, sold for $6,435. “It is rare to find one black dyed buckskin piece, but to find five in one sale is extraordinary,” Ted Trotta said.
A number of pipebowls were offered including a carved lead-inlaid catlinite fish effigy example, Plateau, late Eighteenth Century, 5 inches long, $3,627; an anonymous portrait of a native American, early Eighteenth Century, oil on board, 15 ½ by 13 ½ inches, made $18,720; and a Great Lakes quilted hide trapezoidal pouch, black died buckskin with vegetable dyed porcupine quill work in geometric “patterns of power,” 13 inches long and dating from the Eighteenth Century, sold for $17,530 to Ted.
The latter part of the sale moved into the Americana end of things with a New England tavern table of figured maple and birch, box stretcher, selling for $4,095, and a bid of $819 took a Federal painted and gilt-stenciled chair crest depicting a locomotive pulling a car and a caboose. $3,978 bought an English delft blue and white dish, Eighteenth Century, 13 ¾ inches in diameter, depicting portraits of William and Mary, while a grouping of seven canes with carved ivory or bone grips, Nineteenth Century, sold for $3,510 without the display stand. “We have been using that display stand for many years and it does not go with the canes,” Ron Bourgeault said.
A rare English pottery inkpot, dated 1787 with the neck inscribed “W.L,” 2 ½ inches high, was sold together with a Continental faience square inkwell, painted overall with flowers and leaves, 2 ¼ inches high, for $2,632; a New England tiger maple armchair, serpentine crest, vase-form splat, arms ending in carved recesses scroll handgrips, rush seat, brought $7,605; and a New England tavern table in pine and maple, old red wash, breadboard end top measuring 48 by 31 inches, sold for $7,020.
Among the American salt glazed stoneware pieces was a cobalt blue decorated jug, ovoid form with applied loop handle, incised with a “frog-leg” eagle with crosshatched chest and wings, 14 ¾ inches high, that sold to dealer David Wheatcroft for $12,650. The same piece, with a provenance listing Good and Hutchinson, was offered in Sotheby’s sale in January 2003, and did not sell. At that time the reserve was $10/15,000.
A Leeds creamware enamel-decorated make-do tea pot of American interest, circa 1770, was inscribed on one side “Prosperity to the Province of Pensylvania (sic)” and on the other side showed a house, fence and trees, 3 ½ inches high, sold for $6,435. Among the Liverpool jugs was a black transfer-printed and enamel-decorated Masonic piece, showing on one side a fully-rigged ship, Morning Starr, $2,925, and a pair of English painted enamel and brass circular curtain tiebacks, each painted with a displayed eagle bearing a shield and clutching arrows and branches, 1 ¾ inches in diameter, that brought $3,740.
Two American cast iron stove plates, the first cast with the Great Seal of the United States, 26 by 35 inches, and the second casts with a turtle flanked by flying ducks, sold for $11,700 to a phone bidder.
Other objects in the sale, demonstrating the wide interests of Bill Guthman, included trade silver and metal ornaments, snuff boxes, clay pipes, gravestone rubbings, pearlware, shoe buckles, slipware, watch keys, needlework wallets, compasses, silver spoons, early books, cast iron sad irons, pocket knives and steel knives and folks, Dutch Delft tiles, bone and horn objects and early letters and documents.
In a tribute to Bill, printed in the front of the catalog and written by members of the Guthman and Stillinger families, they express thanks to those who helped with the catalog, including Ted Trotte, Anna Bono, Dave Kleiner and Hollis Brodrick. They also wrote, in part, “Bill was fortunate in that he was able to build a life around the objects he loved. And it is fair to say that the world is just as fortunate, as his contribution to the scholarship of American history has enhanced and added color to our knowledge of the lives, occupations, and preoccupations of early Americans. To know his collection is, in part, to know Bill, and thus it is with both great sadness and delight that we see it offered here for the next generation to love.”
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