Published: March 6, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
THOMASTON, MAINE – Kaja Veilleux arranged good weather for his Winter Weekend sale, February 16-18, at his Thomaston Place Auction Galleries. As a result, the rearranged salesroom was just about filled and the folks came to spend some money. Topping the sale, which grossed more than $1 million, was an equestrian portrait of the race horse Totaig, which sold for $46,800 to a determined phone bidder, more than tripling estimate.
The 1,750 lots in the sale included several specific collections: more than 300 lots of Inuit carvings and artifacts, 239 lots of contemporary art from one collection, several lots of Chinese export porcelain from a major collection, scrimshaw from the collection of arctic explorer Edmund Skillin, plus weathervanes, American and European furniture, silver, Asian items, jewelry and much more. Many lots were sold without reserve, so bargains were to be had. Numerous phone lines were in use throughout the sale, there were many absentee bids and internet bidding was available on three platforms.
The large portrait of Totaig had been painted by Franklin Brooke Voss (1880-1953). In 1932 the horse won the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot in Great Britain. He was the first American horse to win the race and, at odds of 33-1, was certainly an underdog. The horse’s owner, American financier Victor Emanuel, is also shown in the painting. The race was one mile in length, and the winner’s trophy, which was sold in the next lot, is one of only three trophies from the Royal Ascot meets that may be permanently kept by the winner. The sterling silver presentation ewer and underplate awarded to Emanuel sold for $2,691. The sale included other equestrian paintings from the Emanuel collection, along with other trophies.
In addition to the Voss equestrian portrait, several other oil paintings did well. Surprising even the auctioneer, a winter scene of Utah, dated 1935 and signed by James Taylor Harwood (1860-1940), sold for more than three times its estimate, ending at $28,080. A cotton field scene, “Slaves Picking Cotton,” by William Aiken Walker (1838-1921), finished at $16,965.
On the first day, more than 600 lots, from two collections, were sold – all without reserve. There were more than 230 lots of contemporary art – paintings, photographs, drawings, prints and posters – from a recently discovered cache in a Camden, Maine, estate. Several lots of art exhibition posters included multiple copies of the same poster. For example, four copies of a 1991 poster for Robert Longo’s Men in the Cities, each signed by the artist, sold for $585, and nine Garry Winogrand posters for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, eight of which were signed, brought $410. A monumental double-sided lithograph signed by Damien Hirst, “The Last Supper,” earned $1,170. From an edition of only 200, a signed large double-sided poster by Ed Ruscha advertising vodka, “Absolut Ruscha,” reached $2,340. Photographs included a signed silver gelatin photograph, “James Deans’ Motorcycle, Fairmount, Ind., 1985,” by George Tice, which finished at $1,170, and a signed black and white contact print, “Ballet Dancer,” by Annie Leibovitz sold for $585.
The first day also included more than 350 lots of Inuit art and artifacts, again, sold without reserve. It was an exceptional collection, including soapstone carvings by well-known artists, plus masks, serigraphs, dolls, prints, baskets and more. Prices are certainly down from they were a few years ago and there were some very good buys. Some carvings, smaller ones for the most part, were sold in groups of several pieces, with prices averaging $50-$60 per carving.
Topping the collection was a 1975 14-inch soapstone carving of two narwhals by Osuitok Ipeelee, which realized $3,510, while a circa 1960-69 carving by Pauloosie Weetaluktuk depicting a hunter dragging a seal he just killed went out for $1,404. It was done in gray serpentine, with sinew, and signed on the underside. A circa 1982-85 unsigned green serpentine sculpture attributed to Kiugak (Kiawak) Ashoona, Cape Dorset, depicting a sedna and seal spirit earned $2,106.
Some of the artifacts did well. A Nineteenth Century or earlier small carved wooden shamanic mask with a good patina went for $4,680, and a finely carved wooden grease bowl of the same era brought $2,808. It had an applied rim, with a seal painted on the bottom. A whalebone walking stick with a walrus head top, ivory tusks, baleen rings, initialed “HBS,” fetched $819. The collection included Inuit lithographs and drawings. A graphite on paper, signed Lyle Wilson and dated 1980, went for $380. A lot with two colorful serigraphs, one signed by Roy Harry Vickers and the other by Danny Dennis, seemed to be a bargain, bringing just $234 for both.
Starting the second day of the sale, an early American bronze sundial sold for $2,223. It was dated 1666 and signed H. Cole, who was known to have left the New Haven colony in 1656, settling in the Hempstead and Flushing parts of today’s Queens County, N.Y. The sundial came from the Brinkerhoff family of Schenectady, N.Y., and by family tradition, had belonged to blacksmith Jan Jansen Bleeker, who had arrived from Holland in 1658.
Someone liked horse weathervanes and several wound up in this auction. A hollow-body running horse, 30 inches long, with the original directional and a good verdigris patina went to a phone bidder at $3,218, and an Ethan Allen running horse, possibly by Fiske & Co., also went to a phone bidder for $1,404. It had some minor condition issues.
As with the first day, when nearly everything was sold without reserves, some good American furniture sold under those terms and went quite reasonably. For example, a pair of Portsmouth Eighteenth Century Chippendale mahogany side chairs with fancy pierced backsplats and curved crests brought only $380, way under the estimate. Also selling reasonably was a grain-painted pine stepback cupboard with paneled doors and sides, which finished at $936, well below the estimates. A nice Maine country Hepplewhite birch and flame birch card table with a hinged top, breadboard ends and one long drawer, sold for $293. Interestingly, while prices for some of the period American furniture were soft, an Eldred Wheeler tiger maple two-part highboy with shell carving realized $3,217.
There was a collection of Chinese export porcelain, including armorial pieces for the English market, from an estate in Sargentville, Maine, and prices for much of it exceeded estimates. Leading the collection was a group of three armorial pieces, two soup plates and a platter, from a service made for Augustus Henry (1735–1811), third duke of Grafton, possibly to celebrate the duke’s second marriage to Elizabeth Wrottesley, or it may have been given to the duke by the East India Company in 1772. Other pieces from the service are in the Mottahedeh Collection and illustrated in Howard/Ayers Chinese Export Porcelain Volume II. In spite of some imperfections, the three pieces more than doubled the estimate, finishing at $11,700.
From the same collection, a pair of Qianlong period Chinese export Tobacco Leaf bowls, circa 1775, with scalloped rims, underglaze blue and famille rose enameled leaf and floral decoration, achieved $3,218, also more than double the estimate.
Edmund Skillin of Freeport, Maine, was a longtime friend of arctic explorer Admiral Donald MacMillan and put together a collection of scrimshaw objects, including whales’ teeth, walrus tusks and more. One of two items from the collection that sold for $5,265 each was an exceptional walrus ivory pie crimper. It had a twisted, tapering handle, a center ring of horn and a square toothed wheel topped by a two-prong fork. Two sets of sailor-made dominoes, one a miniature, seemed interesting, selling together for $293, and there were multiple phone bidders for a pair of polychrome whales’ teeth with allegorical figures of Justice and Liberty that finished at $2,925. A whalebone busk engraved with a view of Salem Harbor showing the counting house, ships, a lighthouse and more went to a phone bidder for $4,680.
Autographed baseballs sold on the third day, including one with a bold Casey Stengel signature, which brought $351, and another that had the signatures of Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio, among others, and that one sold for $644.
The third day of Thomaston Place sales often include an interesting assortment of items. In addition to the autographed baseballs, there was a grouping of photographica, including daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Two post-mortem dags (one of which was described as “possibly” being a postmortem) sold together, earning $555. A lot of six Civil War albumen prints from Mathew Brady’s “Incidents of the War” series, taken at Harper’s Ferry in 1862, finished at $2,457, nearly three times the estimate. There was also a small collection of toys and mechanical banks with a Bull Dog mechanical bank by the J.&E. Stevens Co. fetching $1,404. Bringing good prices, as they do consistently, were two Louis Vuitton trunks; one sold for $8,190 and the other brought $8,775.
A few days after the sale, Kaja Veilleux and John Bottero, the company’s vice president, discussed the sale and their thoughts about Jim Julia’s company having merged with Morphy Auctions. Both said they were pleased with the results of this three-day sale. And both were optimistic about how the Julia merger with Morphy’s would affect their company. Veilleux said, “It’s going to be good for us. We have to let people know that Maine auctions will still get top dollar for their things. We’re going to increase our local advertising, emphasizing the importance of selling Maine collections in Maine. We’ll probably increase the number of cataloged auctions we run – there’ll be an extra one this April, and we’ll do more online-only sales, perhaps getting up to one a month. We’ve been doing those sales for a while now and we’re learning what works and what doesn’t.”
Bottero was also optimistic. “We have to continue providing the level of service that we’ve been doing, and we have to be sure folks know that there’s a first-class auction hall in Maine. We’re making some physical changes to the salesroom. In addition to live bidders, we have to let potential consignors know that we get 2,000-3,000 online bidders signed up for our sales. I agree with Kaja that we should probably increase our online-only sales. We need to be a full-service company that can properly move along whatever our consignors want us to. Julia’s leaving the area should be good for us.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For information, 207-354-8141 or www.thomastonauction.com.
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