Published: November 30, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Heritage Auctions
DALLAS – “Oh my goodness, it was an exciting day,” Heritage Auctions’ director of decorative arts and design, silver and vertu, Karen Rigdon, said. “We had a lot of good action, even on areas that had not seen interest before the sale.” She had reason to be pleased, as Heritage Auctions’ November 16 Silver Auction surpassed expectations and totaled $1.17 million at press time.
The auction was anchored by more than 100 lots of silver from the collection of silver scholar and former curator, Dr Charles Venable; interest in his collection pushed results beyond expectations. Venable, who authored Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor and was curator at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Speed Museum of Art in Louisville, Ky., and, most recently, Newfields in Indianapolis, Ind., assembled his collection with a curator’s eye and discipline. Bidders responded accordingly.
Several lots from Venable’s collection topped the leaderboard, including a set of 12 Gorham Japonesque silver and mixed metal fruit knives, made in Providence, R.I., circa 1800, that realized $45,000 against a $1,5/2,500 estimate. Venable included quips with nearly every lot; for his entry on these knives, he said he had always loved such sets, which appear in several museum collections. Rigdon said a collector in the United States was the top bidder.
“His quips spoke to both the scholar and new collection,” Rigdon said, noting that they also shed some light on what he appreciated about each piece.
The Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute (MWPAI) in Utica, N.Y., bought a two handled coin silver tray, made in New York in 1851 by William Gale & Son, for $20,000, the second highest price realized for a piece from Venable’s collection. Venable had tried for more than a decade to purchase the tray, which had come to market several times between 1983 and 2014.
Stephen Harrison, the deputy director at the MWPAI, had worked with Venable in both Dallas and Cleveland and was delighted that the museum had acquired the tray, further sharing that the museum had acquired a total of seven pieces from the collection.
“The tray by Gale that we acquired is really astounding,” Harrison said. “It’s one of a small group of very large, fully engraved pieces that is just the quintessential example of the engraver’s art from the mid-Nineteenth Century. Trays were meant to impress and often depicted works of art – this tray, for example, most all of the scenes have been identified to various print sources. That connects this tray with fine art, which is exactly the thing we want to portray in our collection.”
“Our strength is in Nineteenth Century silver, but we did not have a good example of Medallion silver,” Harrison continued, a need satisfied by their purchase of Venable’s Ball, Black and Co., silver medallion water pitcher. The Art Nouveau appeal and organic form of a Lilypad pattern berry spoon, made circa 1900 by Whiting, was another piece the museum purchased, as was a Gorham oyster tureen, that Harrison said would help the museum tell the story of oyster’s popularity on late Nineteenth Century tables.
“We’re so pleased these works have come from his collection. He’s the premier scholar of Nineteenth Century American silver; this sale showed he has an extraordinary eye for beauty, history and taste. Every single one of his pieces could fit into the museum’s collection; it was very hard to decide on which pieces to go after,” Harrison said.
Other highlights from Venable’s collection include a Mägdesprunger Eisenhuette nickel-plated table, made in Mägdesprung, Germany circa 1870, that sold to a buyer in Dallas for $11,875, and a chinoiserie inspired Tiffany & Co., silver covered tureen that had once belonged to Martha F. de Bautista, the First Lady of Cuba. It brought $11,250 from an American buyer.
“He’s very pleased and happy with the sale,” Rigdon said, having spoken after the auction with Venable, who now lives in Florida.
Works consigned by other sellers also scored top marks from bidders.
Realizing the second highest price in the sale, at $31,250, was a set of 12 gilt silver plates made by Paul Storr, in London, in 1817. The plates had provenance to a 2007 Sotheby’s auction and had been estimated at $12/18,000. Rigdon said the plates sold to a buyer in the United States.
Epergnes were well represented, with a mid-Eighteenth Century example by Thomas Powell realizing the third highest price in the sale and selling for $25,000, beyond expectations. A five-piece epergne garniture were made in the early Twentieth Century in the London workshop of Horace Woodward & Co., and closed out at $13,750.
A Gorham silver two-handled covered trophy bowl that was cataloged as “monumental” and stood 27 inches tall proved a winner among bidders, ultimately selling within estimate for $21,250. It had been offered at auction at Christie’s in 2015 and related to a punch bowl illustrated in Charles A. Carpenter’s 1997 book, Gorham Silver. Another trophy, this time made by Woshing Silver in Shanghai in the Twentieth Century, found a new home for $13,750.
“Once you get into dragons, it excites a lot of interest,” Rigdon said, noting that all the Asian silver was consigned by the same seller. Their collection included a wine cooler with dragon decoration by Arthur and Bond, Yokohama, Japan, 1880-1923, that sold to an American buyer for $17,500. A similar aesthetic was seen in a pair of Meiji period dragon-form partial gilt silver two-light candlesticks, that made $10,625.
At just 14 lots, the collection from Dr James Young was small but choice, with objets de vertu in 14K varicolored gold, enamel, hardstone and jeweled, all done in the Twentieth Century in the manner of Faberge. A small box made $20,000, two standing eggs each sold for $15,000, and three clocks finished at $10,625, $7,500 and $5,500, respectively. Rigdon said the quality of the craftsmanship on all of the pieces was very fine and the collection garnered interest from around the world.
Heritage Auctions’ next silver sale will take place in May. Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium. For more information, www.ha.com.
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