Published: January 19, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Merrill’s Auctioneers & Appraisers
WILLISTON, VT. – Merrill’s Auctioneers & Appraisers ushered in the New Year with a 633-lot decorative and fine arts auction on January 8. Because Vermont remains one of the few states with a low-enough Covid-19 positivity rate, limited and by-request in-room bidding was allowed as well as absentee and phone bidding. With the sale conducted on two online platforms, a sell-through rate of more than 95 percent was achieved.
“The sale was very strong and very well attended online,” Ethan Merrill said by phone when we caught up with him a few days after the sale closed. “Over the last few months, we have consistently seen our new bidders increasing; in this sale about 40 percent had never bid with us before. I’ve noticed there is increased interest in antiques, particularly a shift in interest in ‘brown wood,’ particularly in pieces I would not have taken before.”
Since the pandemic began, Antiques and The Arts Weekly has reported stronger sales in traditional antiques than before sheltering-in-place orders were the norm. Generally speaking, this trend has been attributed to a buying public who are staying at home and, with more disposable funds on hand that would normally have been earmarked for travel and entertainment that are currently curtailed, monies are being allocated to “feathering the nest,” as it were. If one has to stay at home, why not make it as attractive and pleasant a place as possible? Merrill agreed with that assessment, but also attributed the uptick to increased movement in local real estate. “In Vermont, which is considered a pretty safe place, we’ve seen a lot of down-country people moving into the state. Those places need to be furnished.”
A watercolor and gouache on paper by German-American artist George Grosz (1893-1959) titled “City Dwellers” and dated 1929 sold below estimate but still brought $31,625, the top price in the sale. The work had been consigned by a local Vermont collector whose parents lived in Germany and who acquired the work directly from the artist. There was international interest in the painting, which depicted a bustling urban scene and it sold to an international buyer who was bidding on the phone. The same consignor was a collector of modern art and had consigned three works by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991), all of which sold for prices between $1,955 and $2,645.
A local collection of clocks and watches supplied many of the sale’s top lots, including a French 18K or 22K yellow gold pocket watch that nearly doubled its high estimate to sell to an international buyer, bidding online, for $11,070. The watch, which had an enamel scene that depicted classical figures in a landscape, had a quarter repeater with a bell and a rare alarm mechanism. Underbidders on the watch included a phone bidder and a buyer in the room.
Other works from the same clock and watch consignment that brought noteworthy results were an English carriage clock with fusee works by London maker James McCabe that brought $6,325 and was underbid by a bidder in the room. An 18K gold and lapis chatelaine watch by Asprey of London was the first such example Merrill had handled, saying “I’ve never seen one like it before.” It sold to a buyer in the room for $6,325. A Patek Philippe 18K gold pocket watch sold for $5,175 to a buyer in the room who had been the underbidder on the McCabe carriage clock.
The sale included about 200 lots being sold by John Kapioltas, the chairman and chief executive officer of Sheraton Hotels, who is in his mid-90s and is leaving his large estate in South Londonderry, Vt., to move to Florida. Among the Kapioltas’ consignment was an Eighteenth Century carved and gilded temple Buddha, which had been a gift from the president of the Association for the Propagation and Promotion of Objets d’Art of Thailand in 1989. The 46-inch figure, which was late Ayudhva, was purchased by a local collector bidding in the room for $8,625, the third highest price in the sale.
Other items from the Kapioltas’ collection included a mid-Twentieth Century Greek sterling silver tea set consisting of coffee and tea pots, a covered sugar bowl, cream pitcher and gadrooned scalloped rim double-handled serving tray. It sold for $2,875, just shy of its high estimate. In a nod to the Kapioltas’ passion for breeding thoroughbred race horses, an online buyer paid $2,952 for “Four In Hand” by Peter Purves Smith (English, 1912-1949). Lastly, to underscore the variety of objects consigned from the Kapioltas collection was a contemporary John Deere Gator in good working order that had been used by the family to navigate their property; it sold to a Vermont buyer for $7,475.
Among the lots of “brown wood” Merrill referenced earlier was an Eighteenth Century George III mahogany sideboard that, at one time, had been on the Webb estate in Shelburne, Vt. Merrill said he received a number of calls and questions with concerns about the age and authenticity of the piece, a volume of interest he hasn’t seen much of lately. It brought $4,025 to a buyer in Texas who was bidding on the phone. A late Nineteenth Century wing armchair with bird carving topped expectations and brought $2,530. It was from a Point Farm West, Grand Isle, Vt., house that had been built by Canadians as a summer camp in the Jacobean Revival style with pink marble and paneled rooms. Merrill said it had been furnished in a grand style and was the source for much of the other formal furniture in the sale, including a lift-top card table that made $173, a games table that sold for $920 and some revivalist armchairs that brought $144.
Much of the fine art in the sale was from the Point Farm West residence. Topping that selection of offerings was “Silver Glitter,” an oil on canvas by Canadian artist Marcel Clement. It measured 20 by 32 inches, retained a Watson Galleries, Montreal, exhibition label on the back and sold for $8,050. Merrill said “That was a beautiful painting that looked better in person…that’s one of the downsides of online auctions.” Another painting from the Point Farm West collection was a landscape by English artist Jose Weiss (1859-1919), which was in a gilt frame described in the catalog as “magnificent.” The painting measured 24 by 40 inches and sold to an online buyer in Pennsylvania for $4,920, underbid by a bidder in the room.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Merrill’s next sale will take place on February 5.
For additional information, www.merrillsauction.com or 802-878-2625.
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