Published: February 15, 2022
Review by Rick Russack, Photos Courtesy Fontaine’s Auction Gallery
PITTSFIELD, MASS. – Fontaine’s Auction Gallery is known for selling Belle Epoch decorative arts and that’s what crossed the block at its February 5 sale. If you searched his sale for Tiffany, you would have found 90 items, mostly leaded lamps and Favrile glass. But there was more: Pairpoint and Handel lamps, French and other art glass, silver, furniture designed for the palatial homes of the period, paintings, bronzes, French bisque dolls, silver, George Ohr pottery, to name just some. Internet bidding was available, and phone and absentee bids were processed. Catalog descriptions were thorough and included condition statements, along with an invitation to call if more information was desired. The 499-lot sale grossed $2,150,000.
As expected, things named Tiffany were a main attraction and led the day. Four of the five highest priced items in the sale were Tiffany lamps. A Curtain Borders floor lamp with a 25-inch shade, signed Tiffany Studios on the shade and base, brought the highest price of the auction, $181,250, well above the estimate, undoubtedly helped by its condition. The catalog stated “We seldom call anything in excellent condition, but we can’t find anything wrong with this lamp. There are no heat cracks in the shade. The cap and sockets are original. There is no excess patina wear on the base. This is the best example of one of these lamps that we have seen.”
The second highest price of the sale, $115,625, was earned by a Byzantine floor lamp with a 26-inch shade signed Tiffany Studios, on a reproduction base. Leading the table lamps, bringing $109,375, was a circa 1905 Nasturtium example, signed twice on the shade, on an oil cannister base signed “Tiffany Studios, New York, 28644” with the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company monogram. Minor defects to the shade were noted. More than quadrupling its estimate was a Tiffany style Cobweb table lamp, which realized $24,375.
The wide selection of Tiffany Favrile glass items did well, and several exceeded their estimates. A Pulled Feather Favrile vase signed “LCT,” inset into a fully marked bronze base sold for $5,000, four times the estimate. A signed flower form vase earned $5,312, and another earned $4,375. A 14-inch punch bowl and stand finished at $3,750, while a Tiffany Studios intaglio carved Favrile glass pitcher and tumbler reached $2,375, well above the estimate. Both the 8-inch pitcher and tumbler were carved with the grapevine pattern.
Selling below the estimate was a small, elaborately framed watercolor by Louis Comfort Tiffany, depicting an Arabian street scene, which brought $3,625. Tiffany started his career as a painter, initially self-taught but later studied with George Inness in 1866. It was in 1875 that his interest in glass developed and he initially worked at several glasshouses in Brooklyn. In the late 1870s, he, along with others, opened a design studio. The business took off after 1881 when he did the interior design work for the Mark Twain house in Hartford; the following year he redecorated several rooms in the White House for President Chester Allen Arthur. (Most of his work in the White House was removed by President Teddy Roosevelt.) In 1885, he decided to concentrate on glass, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Other art glass also did well, as did pottery. There were five pieces of pottery, all signed, by George Ohr, who called himself the “The Mad Potter of Biloxi.” Bidders were waiting for a small, crumpled red vase that sold for $26,250. A dark bowl, 9 inches wide, with a green crumpled top edge, brought $9,063 and the remaining pieces also did quite well. Unappreciated in his day, Ohr’s work is now in several museums including the Smithsonian and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
There was one piece of Newcomb College pottery: a 10-inch vase that was decorated with a blue/green floral pattern and sold for $7,813. A circa 1925 Coquille D’Oeuf vase was attributed to Jean Dunand, a Swiss/French artist who worked in various mediums, including lacquer. Around 1925, he began to experiment with adding minute pieces of eggshell into his designs, a Japanese technique known as coquille d’oeuf. The process was virtually unknown in the west at the time, and his work, in the Art-Deco style, was rapidly accepted. The vase realized $15,625.
A large Thomas Webb & Sons cut crystal punch bowl, from the late Nineteenth Century, brought $7,188. It was signed “W. Fritsche” for William Fritsche, who was one of Webb’s finest engravers.
The sale included more than 30 pieces of French cameo glass by Galle, Daum, Legras and other makers. A Hyacinth pattern blown-out cameo vase by Emile Galle reached $5,625 and a colorful enameled cameo glass vase with floral designs by Daum Nancy, sold for $4,063. An unusual Arsall lamp with a cameo glass shade depicting elephants and jungle foliage, on a bronze base with a lion, went out for $3,750.
Fontaine’s sales often include massive, heavily carved pieces of furniture suitable for the late Nineteenth Century mansions of the wealthy. A Hertz Brothers oak banquet table with eight leaves, that would open to nearly five feet, was carved with winged maidens and floral motifs, achieved $35,000. A massive mid-Nineteenth Century Italian walnut bed, carved with filigree, winged maidens and dolphins sold for $10,625. A heavily carved oak cabinet by Horner earned $7,813, while another carved with dolphins earned $4,375. A carved Chickering concert grand piano that had been used by Victor Herbert to compose many of his famous works, brought $8,250. That price may have been held back by the fact that the piano would have to be removed from its Illinois home by March 1. (It had not been moved to Fontaine’s gallery.) An Arts and Crafts oak Roycroft Ali Baba Bench, No. 46, circa 1905, earned $7,500. It had a split log seat and the original intact bark.
After the sale, John Fontaine commented, “It was like the old times. Tiffany was what they wanted and a lot of that exceeded our estimates. We’re seeing new buyers come into the market. They’re knowledgeable, they love the stuff, and don’t hesitate to pay what’s necessary to get the things they want. I’m glad to see that these new buyers are back sale after sale. The large heavily carved pieces of furniture that we’ve always sold have been affected by the same market forces that you see with early American “brown furniture.” It has to really be special to bring strong prices. We sold some things that are not usually part of our sales, and they did really well. I’m thinking of the George Ohr pottery and the dolls. We promoted those things well and the interested buyers responded. And I can never be disappointed with a sale that grosses over $2 million.”
Fontaine’s next sale will offer clocks on March 14.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.fontainesauction.com or 413-448-8922.
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