Published: December 12, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy Skinner Inc.
BOSTON – Skinner’s November 4 Americana sale showed the strength of the market for American paintings, scrimshaw, furniture, mochaware and weathervanes. At the start of the sale, there were several bidders in the room, more than at some recent sales. There were numerous absentee bids, about a dozen phone lines were in use throughout the day and internet bidding was available on two platforms.
The top price of the sale was $49,200, earned by a scrimshawed whale tooth accompanied by a whalebone cane. The cane, with a whalebone ivory top carved in the shape of a hand holding a brass ring, was inscribed “Charles Ball, US Frigate Constitution” and “Bay of Callao, July 4 1841.” The tooth depicted the ship on one side and a spread-winged eagle over a polychrome shield on the other side.
Records document Charles Ball as having served on the frigate from 1839 to 1841. The frigate is depicted flying the commodore’s flag, which was flown on the vessel for only a very short period, corresponding with the date on the cane and when Ball is known to have been on board. The 1841 Fourth of July celebration aboard the Constitution, while at Callao Bay, Peru, was a raucous event, with the crew rapidly becoming intoxicated due to extra whiskey rations for the holiday. Other whalebone items did well, with carved canes going between $738 and $2,214. An unusual carved pan bone knife, or meat cleaver, brought $615. The marine portion of the sale also included a Ralph Cahoon (1910-1982) painting and an unusual small piece of furniture he decorated. The signed painting, “A Sailor’s Wedding Party,” reached $20,910. The small blue Nineteenth Century cabinet was decorated with four panels by Cahoon, signed and dated 1979. It brought $2,091, which seemed reasonable for an unusual piece. A shore scene painting by Cahoon’s wife, Martha Cahoon (1905-1999), earned $2,706, more than four times the estimate.
More than 100 lots of early furniture, weathervanes, gameboards, trade signs and academic American paintings came from one Connecticut collection. After the sale, Steve Fletcher said that selling the academic paintings at this sale was something of a gamble, but it turned out to have been a good decision. The collection had been assembled with an eye towards quality in each area and the interest in the paintings reflected that. Topping the group was a western landscape, “Platte River, Colorado,” by Worthington Whittridge, (1820-1910), which finished at $40,590. A prominent member of the Hudson River School, he was president of the National Academy of Design for a year. “Pond in Newpt” by John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872), sold for $35,670. Kensett was also a member of the Hudson River School, was influenced by Thomas Cole, and is best known for landscape paintings of New England. Finishing behind the Kensett, at $30,750, was “Late Summer” by Richard William Hubbard (1816-1888). Hubbard became a full member of the National Academy in 1859, frequently painted scenes in the White Mountains and in 1854 was working alongside Benjamin Champney (1817-1907). His work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Weathervanes and folk art from the same collection were also selected with a discerning eye. Most sought-after was a flattened, full-body pig with molded mouth and eyes and a wire cluster at the end of its tail. It had been pictured in Steve Miller’s book Art of the Weathervane and finished at $30,750. A copper and cast zinc merino ewe weathervane, possibly by A.J. Harris & Co. drew multiple bidders and finished over its estimate, at $25,830. Also popular with bidders was a copper and cast iron horse jumping through a hoop weathervane; it was attributed to A.L. Jewell and Co. and brought $23,985.
The same collection provided painted and formal furniture. A Connecticut River Valley cherry scroll top chest on chest, circa 1765, on a carved bracket base, realized $20,910. An Eighteenth Century black painted, scrub top tavern table, with turned tapering legs, ended up at $6,675. The highest selling piece of furniture in the category came from another collection. It was an inlaid walnut spice cabinet from Chester County, Pennsylvania, circa 1765-80, which reached $25,830. The door was inlaid with compass decoration and berries, within a herringbone pattern frame and the interior had 11 drawers. Tall post beds are not usually strong sellers, but the mahogany one in this sale with an arched headboard and four carved ring-turned posts finished at a surprising $10,455.
Do you believe in serendipity and have you been to any good yard sales lately? Someone did earlier this year and had a good pay day. Chris Fox, associate deputy director of the Americana department, took in a William Mathew Prior (1806-1873) portrait of a young woman in a black dress with lace trim. The consignor said that he was driving to work one day when a construction detour took him to a street he did not normally travel on. There was a yard sale being held at a circa 1840 house and he stopped and found this portrait in a pile of frames. The young couple had priced it at $10. Believing that it was good painting, the yard sale buyer asked the couple if they were sure they wanted to sell it for that price. The answer was “if you don’t buy it we’ll just throw it away.” He paid the $10 and it sold for $9,225, one of the higher prices for folk art at this sale. Another folk art portrait that did well was an Ammi Philips (1788-1865) portrait of a child in a plaid dress with dog that earned $7,995.
The day started with a group of American silver, and the first lot, an Eighteenth Century cann by Jacob Hurd, sold for $6,765. The selection included a pair of spoons by Paul Revere, Jr, which brought $6,150 and a circa 1715-30 silver creamer by Newport, R.I., silversmith Samuel Vernon fetched $4,920, more than six times the estimate. As you would expect, there were numerous other interesting things throughout the sale. Creating a lot of interest during the preview and selling well over the estimate, was a large cast iron garden figure of a pointing dog. It was about 34 inches long and multiple phone bidders competed with a strong absentee bid. It finished at $3,998. Skinner’s recent sales have included good mochaware, and so did this one. Most popular with bidders was a small covered bowl, decorated with trailed slip and cat’s-eyes. It earned $5,535 and a large slip-decorated pitcher with seaweed and dot pattern decoration went out at $4,612.
After the sale, Steve Fletcher, said, “We’re certainly pleased with grossing more than $1.3 million. Most categories did well. The academic paintings were strong and so was mocha. Some of the furniture did very well, and as usual these days, there were some good buys in that department. I was a bit surprised that some of the weathervanes didn’t sell. One of the encouraging signs for the future is, I think, the number of new buyers that we’re seeing from Bidsquare. They’re reaching a younger crowd and that’s a good thing. I know that some of the mocha went to new collectors. All in all, a positive sale.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3200.
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