Published: June 12, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – It was as close to an old-fashioned auction as you can get these days. As he seems to do regularly, W.A. “Bill” Smith filled the gallery for his May 28 sale. It was standing room only, with the parking lots overflowing onto the state highway. Smith had put together a sale with a strong selection of jewelry, with several pieces bringing five figure prices. He had four vintage cars that together sold for more than $75,000. Smith injects some life into the American furniture market by discussing many of the pieces as they cross the block and it showed in some of the prices. A selection of American paintings also did well, led by one that sold for more than $100,000, in addition to several White Mountain landscapes that also performed well. Seven or eight phone lines were used, and absentee bidding was available. Smith does not have internet bidding and does not publish a list of prices realized, so if you want to know, you’d best be there. A significant percentage of the buyers are retail, buying for collections or furnishing a home. The sale grossed $1,132,750.
The top selling lot of the day was an impressionist painting by Edward Willis Redfield (American, 1869-1965). It was expected to be the top lot of the day and it was, going out at $103,500 to an agent in the room on the phone with his client. Redfield is best known for his scenes of the New Hope, Penn., area and is considered one of the co-founders of the New Hope school. Redfield spent his summers at Boothbay Harbor, in Maine, and often painted scenes of Monhegan Island. This particular painting was inscribed on a cross stretcher “Village Street.” Redfield’s paintings hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and numerous other institutions. Also doing well was “Pieta,” a bronze by Fritz Koenig (1924-2017). It was signed “FK” on the base and sold for $20,700. It had been exhibited at the Staempfli Gallery show, “The Sculptor and the Architect” in 1964, and the lot included the original receipt from Staempfli Gallery.
Strong interest in paintings extended beyond the Redfield. A folky painting with strong local interest was one of the first lots sold. Done by S. Pezzoli in 1888, the oil on canvas depicted the brightly painted “Depot Coach,” an Abbott-Downing stagecoach, better known as a Concord coach and run by a Claremont, N.H., company, was pulled by four white horses on the road with Vermont’s Mount Ascutney in the background. The painting also depicted the driver and was accompanied by a cabinet photo that identified the driver as John McCollough. The painting, which had never been out of the family, sold to a phone bidder for $10,925.
Paintings of regional scenery often draw local interest, and there were several views of the White Mountain that inspired competitive bidding. “Mt Washington,” by Aaron Draper Shattuck, (1832-1928), depicting a river, cows and the mountain, sold to a phone bidder for $16,100. Shattuck was a member of the National Academy who summered in Conway, N.H., and his works hang in several museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
An oil on canvas by Frank Shapleigh, titled “Bridge Over The Ellis River in Jackson, N.H.” brought $5,980 from a bidder in the room. Shapleigh had a studio on the grounds of the Crawford House in Crawford Notch, N.H., which is one of the Grand Hotels, and many of his works were sold to tourists. George Loring Brown (1814-1889) painted the “Old Bridge and Mill at Campton Village, N.H. and Mad River,” which realized $11,500. His works hang in the Smithsonian and other museums. It sold to a phone bidder. A young woman in the room was the determined underbidder. She later said that she lives in Campton and drives past that scene daily. An oil by Benjamin Champney (1817-1907), who lived in Conway, N.H., depicted a mountain landscape with a lake, reached $1,840. Biographies and several paintings by these artists, are on http://whitemountainart.com.
Another painting by an artist with strong connections to the White Mountains may have been a very good buy. An unsigned mountain landscape believed to be of a Colorado view was attributed to John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872) and sold for just $4,830 to a delighted bidder in the room. Smith said the scene in the painting he was offering had been done in Colorado, where Kensett worked during his later years. The painting was bought by Eddie Charbonneau, a house painter from southern Vermont. When asked about his purchase, Charbonneau said, ” I consider myself more of an art appreciator, rather than a collector. I enjoy going to museums and shows as much as I enjoy owning the paintings. I researched this painting before I bought it, and it’s almost identical to another Colorado scene that’s online. I think it was a real bargain – most of his works sell for far more money. I’m delighted with it.” Charbonneau may have been reluctant to call himself a collector, but he certainly is that. This is far from the only painting that he owns.
Although all lots have been photographed, and the lot “on the block” is shown on screens in the hall, each item is brought to the podium, and, if warranted, the auctioneer, either Smith or Ken Labon, comments on the item. Individual pieces of furniture are rotated, showing all sides, including the top and bottom. Significant construction features are pointed out to the crowd, and provenance is emphasized.
Before the sale, in discussing his way of “selling” furniture, Smith remarked, “I learned that from Dick Withington. He was the master.” This extra effort is reflected in some of the prices achieved for American furniture. Despite the general state of the antiques market, Smith’s furniture did well, including Pennsylvania pieces which often do not appeal to buyers from New England. A pair of walnut Eighteenth Century transitional Queen Anne side chairs, with shell carved crest and trifid feet, finished at $11,040. The provenance included a record stating that the chairs had been received as a wedding gift in 1759 by Casper Singer and his wife Eva Marie Spangler. The chairs had descended in the Singer-Brown family. A walnut eight-drawer tall chest on trifid feet brought $4,600, and an Eighteenth Century walnut corner chair with shell carved knee and drake foot brought $3,910.
A Boston Federal period secretary/desk, with “Seymour type inlays” and carved acorn details, realized $5,750. It had been the property of John Langdon of Portsmouth, N.H., who had been a governor of New Hampshire and a United States senator. Langdon’s Portsmouth home is owned by Historic New England and is open to the public. It was the first time the piece had been out of the family.
Smith intersperses jewelry with other material being sold, and he had some good pieces, with several bringing five-figure prices. An Edwardian platinum ring, set with an 11.26-carat cabochon emerald, with diamonds, brought $16,100. It was accompanied by a GIA certificate stating that the emerald was of Russian origin. A platinum ring with a 2.5/2.75-carat diamond, surrounded by another two carats of diamonds, sold for $12,075. Smith said they had not removed the main diamond from the setting to weigh it. The same buyer bought another lot, a 3.25-carat Old European cut diamond, in an Edwardian platinum setting, paying $10,063. Several other jewelry lots also did well.
The sale’s four vintage cars drew a lot of presale interest. Topping the group was a racing green 1932 MG J-type midget, which had been restored in England by MG expert Len Bull. Just a little more than 2,000 of these cars were produced between 1932 and 1934, and this one was well-known to members of the MG Owner’s Club. It sold for $24,150.
Not far behind was one of two Mercedes in the sale, a 2014 C300 in lunar blue, with approximately 25,000 original miles, which reached $21,850. The other Mercedes was a 1994 320 SL convertible with 88,000 miles, two tops, and sold for $19,550. A one-owner 1965 Mustang convertible with 126,000 miles earned $10,350. Smith said it had not been run since 2001, and he believed that it needed only minor work to get it running again. He said that if within two weeks, the buyer determined that it had serious issues – like a blown motor – it could be returned.
After the sale, Smith said there were reasons for the success of the sale. “It always comes down to the material and we had very good stuff. We promoted the sale heavily and that works. We sent out about 3,300 brochures to our existing clients and between the sale and the preview day, we had more than 800 people take a look at what we had. We sold to 35 people who we had never seen before. That’s an encouraging number. I thought that 90 percent of the furniture did what it should have.”
Smith had said his son, Will, a college sophomore, would take the podium for a few lots and that it would be the first time that he did that. “Will did well. The first lot he sold was a blue dry sink. It sold for $2,000, and his mother bought it. She was determined to buy the first thing he sold. The first lot I sold when my dad was running things was a mirror for $40. And my mother wasn’t the buyer.” Will said that he enjoyed the experience.
Prices include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, 603-675-2549 or www.wsmithauction.com.
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