Published: February 6, 2018
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Sotheby’s
NEW YORK CITY – Sotheby’s had tremendous success a year ago when it paired American manuscripts with American furniture and folk art. It followed the same strategy again this year, touting nearly a week of sales as “Americana Week: We The People.” Approximately 1,250 lots crossed the block, offering buyers a broad range and depth of property. By the end of the week, nearly 1,000 lots had been sold for a cumulative total of $13.9 million. Here is a very brief review of the highs and lows of this marathon of sales.
The week started on Wednesday, January 17, with approximately 175 lots of printed and manuscript Americana and maps. The highlight of that sale was the authorized printing of the Declaration of Independence for the State of Massachusetts, which had been in the hands of renowned collector, Mrs J. Insley Blair. Not only was the Declaration the top lot of the sale but it was the only lot during the week of sales to sell for seven figures and realized $1.2 million. The manuscript session was nearly 54 percent sold by lot.
Approximately 180 lots of American-interest silver, prints and Chinese export items were offered, selling in a single session on the afternoon of January 18. The top silver lot was a spectacular silver and copper Indian punch bowl and ladle, attributed to Joseph Heinrich, New York, circa 1900-15. After heated bidding, it closed at $312,500, almost twice its estimate. The top print lot was an Audubon/Havell print of the meadow lark, which exceeded its high estimate to finish at $30,000. Two Qing dynasty horses, offered individually, each brought $150,000 and were the top lots in the Chinese export section.
Erik Gronning, head of Sotheby’s Americana department, had secured several collections in addition to individual consignments, with a cumulative total – including silver, Chinese export and prints – of nearly 1,100 lots. Gronning elected to divide the sale into discrete sections, each of manageable session size, and printed a two-volume catalog rather than individual ones for each special collection. The sessions were held across four days, anchored by individual collections with property from various owners distributed throughout.
Gronning sold 80 percent of the lots and was pleased with the results, which demonstrated depth across a number of categories, with an emphasis on Pilgrim century, William and Mary and classical furniture. He saw a strong appetite among collectors for exceptional objects from distinguished private collections, such as the collection of Patricia M. Sax, the estates of Price and Isobel H. Glover and property from the Dudley and Constance Godfrey Foundation.
The success of the Sax, Glover and Godfrey collections was largely due to reasonable estimates, with items sold with low or no reserves. Buyers were significantly less receptive to works that were highly estimated, or which seemed to be heavily reserved.
The top two lots of American furniture were from various owners. The top lot was a tall case clock with case by Nathan Lumbard. Lumbard has been the subject of recent research; the publication of which is just out. This clock is included in the publication. The estimate ($80/120,000) was enticing enough to warrant a bidding war between phones, with it ultimately selling for $471,000. After the sale, Sotheby’s identified the winning bidder as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The clock is the first of Lumbard’s works to enter the museum.
One of the most heavily published and promoted items in the sale was the Mansfield-Merriam family Pilgrim century wainscot chair of New Haven Colony. The chair had descended in the Merriam family for more than 350 years, and many members of the family came to the sale to watch it sell for $375,000 from the comforts of a skybox. After the sale, a representative for the Merriam family said, “Little did we know that a chair sitting in our grandparents’ house would be sold at Sotheby’s for such a price.”
The first of the sessions featured about 150 works from two New Jersey collections, which had been influenced by a scholar-collector. Many of the works had exhibition or publication history, and this information was noted in the catalog. Those lots receiving the most interest from buyers were American Judaica, including a pair of portraits by Saint-Memin that tripled its high estimate to close at $112,500 and a sheet-iron menorah that realized its high estimate at $30,000. Another eagerly anticipated lot was the Zabriskie family pewter tankard, which sold to Winterthur Museum for $50,000. Despite strong attendance in the room, bidders were not universally receptive to the academic aspects of the collection, which was 61 percent sold by lot.
The Glover collection of approximately 150 lots included English and European decorative arts in addition to Americana. With nearly everything being sold without reserve, only three of the lots were passed. The standout lot of that section was a portrait of a hound after John Wootton, which was hung in the front of the saleroom. After a protracted bidding war, it sold to a phone bidder for $68,750, more than three times its low estimate. The section was 98 percent sold by lot.
The morning session on January 20 was heavily attended, and buyers were ready to buy. The Godfrey Foundation sold off their collection, with Sotheby’s getting approximately 100 lots, while the remainder will be sold by Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., in March. The collection was strong in late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century furniture, but despite a traditionally soft market, most of it sold due to enticing estimates and low or no reserves. The top lot of the Godfrey sale was a Chippendale side chair attributed to Thomas Tufft, which fetched almost four times its high estimate to close at $47,500. The Godfrey Foundation collection was almost 92 percent sold by lot.
Saturday afternoon’s session started with nearly 115 lots from the collection of Bobbi and Ralph Terkowitz, which was particularly strong in folk art portraiture. A charming portrait of a young girl holding roses was hotly pursued, finally selling for $112,500, almost twice its low estimate. Results throughout the section were mixed and the collection was almost 82 percent sold by lot.
Patricia Sax had a passion for classical furniture, and it was the strength of her collection that Sotheby’s offered in the morning session of January 21. Both top lots from the Sax collection were made by Deming & Bulkley, New York. The first, a pair of giltwood and mahogany games tables sold for $137,000, and the second, a verte antique rosewood and giltwood center table sold for $112,500. Sax had consigned works with low or no reserves and the strategy paid off, with 100 percent of the 82 lots selling.
The last session was held Sunday afternoon. Tucked in between furniture and folk art from various owners were 50 lots from the collection of Mark and Susan Laracy, all pieces the couple had acquired since the Laracy’s sold their initial collection at Sotheby’s in January 2007. The highlight of that sale was a painted pine and compass-drawn box by George Robert Lawton of Scituate, R.I. It sold within estimate, for $25,000. The Laracy collection was 62 percent sold by lot.
All prices include the buyer’s premium. For more information, www.sothebys.com.
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