Published: February 18, 2020
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy The Cobbs
PETERBOROUGH, N.H. – A selection of objects from the estate of William J. Ruger Jr led the February 8 sale at the Cobbs. Ruger was the son of one of the founders of Sturm, Ruger & Co., well-known producer of firearms since 1949. Several of the objects sold were to be seen in family or business photographs, copies of which accompanied lots when appropriate. A set of andirons and fireplace tools, attributed to Tiffany Studios, from the Ruger estate, was the top lot of the sale.
Clocks in the sale included Howards and a scarce tall case clock made in nearby Swanzey, N.H. There were pre-Columbian objects, including several gold amulets. Advertising included a group of Coca-Cola signs. Paintings included several by New Hampshire artists, and there was much more. There were more than 100 people in the salesroom as the sale was about to get underway, causing Charlie Cobb to comment, “This looks like the old days.” Internet and phone bidding were available, and there were several absentee bids.
The circa 1880-90 set of andirons attributed to Tiffany Studios brought $30,000, exceeding the prices obtained by Sotheby’s for two nearly identical sets. The Cobbs’ pair was the more desirable of the three sets, retaining the original patinated finish and included a set of matching fire tools, the spit bar, the fitted ember screen and a fourfold fire screen. Items from William Ruger’s office included a large oak roll-top desk with burl walnut panels and drawer fronts, which sold for $1,800, and a large English mahogany library table, which realized $2,280. A photo of Ruger’s office that was included with the lot showed the roll-top desk. Numerous other objects from the Ruger estate were sold throughout the sale.
The scarce tall case clock made in Swanzey, N.H., about 20 miles from the Cobbs gallery, came from a local estate. Made by Silas Parsons (1773-1859), the iron face had both a second hand and a calendar, along with Parson’s name. The arched bonnet top case is cherry and, according to John Delaney’s website, the few other known Parson’s tall case clocks are also cherry. This one sold for $2,040 with its (probably) replaced bracket base. Skinner sold a similar example in 2015 for more than $4,600. One of the other unusual clocks in the sale was a late Nineteenth Century Seth Thomas tower clock movement, which realized $4,200. Sold separately and reaching $240 was a catalog for Howard tower clocks. A 31-inch-tall oak Howard wall clock went for $600, and a Seth Thomas example, slightly larger, earned $570. Both had come from Ruger company offices.
Paintings offered included several American oils, some by New Hampshire artists, as well as three by D.B. Neal, a Mughal-style orientalist who worked in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. Of these three, the most popular was titled on the reverse “Jonah and The Whale,” a watercolor and gouache with metallic illumination. It sold for $1,920, well over the estimate. One of the paintings by New Hampshire artists was by William Preston Phelps, (1848-1923), depicting a farm scene with cattle and mountains in the background. Phelps, who spent the last few years of his life in a mental hospital, grew up on a farm in Dublin N.H., not far from the Cobbs, and he painted numerous scenes in the Monadnock region. This painting realized $2,760.
A still life of a pear by another New Hampshire artist, Jeanne Duval, Jaffrey, N.H. (b 1956), went for $1,680. Attributed to Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), a scene of a Native American encampment alongside a river, with mountains in the background, earned $2,760. The painting was indistinctly signed and bore an old gallery label on the reverse naming AB Durand. The most successful artwork of the day was not American. It was an Italian religious icon cataloged as being from the Seventeenth or Eighteenth Century, depicting the Virgin Mary holding a flowering branch and a book. The catalog said it was based on a Fourteenth Century work, and it bore a label on the back indicating that Tommaso Di Stefano made 55 of these icons. This one brought $6,600, making it the second highest priced item in the sale.
A group of Coca-Cola enamel-on-tin advertising signs had been consigned by a collector who bought them in the 1960s from a Coke delivery man. They had never been used and were in very fine condition. One, a circa 1914 “turtle” shaped sign, more than 20 inches wide, earned $2,880. An identical one but with a few small areas of rust along the edges earned $2,160.
Cobb sales often include a selection of tribal and ethnographic material. This sale had several pre-Columbian artifacts from Central America that had been collected by an American who lived in that region for several years. The offerings included several gold amulets, one of which brought significantly more than the others. It was cataloged as “a pre-Columbian gold figural lidded vessel, Tairona, with a seated figure atop, the vessel with raised frog motif and handles. Polished. 5 inches tall.” The Tairona culture inhabited parts of present-day Colombia and they go back to the First Century CE. The catalog did not offer a date for this piece. Brian Cullity, a Massachusetts dealer who handles pre-Columbian artifacts, told us that the gold used in this time period was low carat, reflecting the technology as it was known at that time. According to Wikipedia, “The Tairona civilization is most renowned for its distinctive goldwork. The Tairona cast a meltable mixture of gold, silver and copper, called Tumbaga, into intricate molds using clay, sand, charcoal and lost wax. Depletion gilding, using controlled corrosion to remove copper from the surface, gave the appearance of solid gold.” This one earned $4,500. Other seemingly similar examples of Tairona gold sold for prices ranging from $330 to $1,560.
A few days later, Charlie Cobb said, “I was really delighted with the sale. There’s so much going on right now that you never know what impact there may be on the market. But we had more people in the room than we’ve had in a long time, and many of the items sold in the room. That’s a good feeling. We had a good year last year, and this will be a good one. We’re seeing so much quality stuff that people want to sell, so I’m really optimistic.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For additional information, www.thecobbs.com or 603-924-6361.
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