By Bob Jackman
PEMBROKE, MASS. – On a balmy September 7, several hundred antique enthusiasts and 300 lots of affordable antiques were the basic recipe for an old-time fun country auction. Auctioneer Willis Henry masterfully simmered and seasoned the pot with anecdotes that induced a warm, folksy atmosphere and accentuated a spirit of good will. At the end of the afternoon the crowd had satisfied their appetites and departed with broad smiles, rejuvenated spirits, and few antiques. Those antiques included some rare and fine works
Top furniture lot was a Sheraton card table from the Seymour school that sold for $24,150 to Reading, Mass., dealer Carl Stinson. Henry recalled, “We were invited to look at the card table in a local collection. Its condition was astonishing. It was so clean, I was asking myself ‘Can this be real?’ It was.”
The ovolo top featured an inlaid edge. Highly figured satinwood veneer decorated the apron. The center panel was further punctuated with a mahogany rectangle with a long oval midsection. The section of the apron above each of the four legs was decorated with a rectangular outline of mahogany veneer. The swell reeded legs tapered to turned feet.
After buying the table, Stinson commented, “It’s a real nice table, and I have some private clients in mind. It is nearly identical to a card table illustrated in Stoneman’s book John and Thomas Seymour, Cabinetmakers in Boston. That table is the frontispiece of Stoneman’s chapter on card tables. Look on pages 198 and 199 and you will see that table is very similar to this table. The difference is that on the legs beneath the three rings and above the reeded section the table in the book has a section of leaf carving. This table does not have the leaf carving, but I think this table is a real beauty.”
Stinson also purchased a bow front Hepplewhite chest for $8,338. The fashionable chest featured shaped skirts on the front and sides and veneered drawer fronts. As the chest approached the auction block, Henry noted, “The opalescent Sandwich glass pulls are not original, but they can be sold for about the cost of a set of period Hepplewhite pulls.”
After winning the chest, Stinson commented, “The brasses can be easily replaced. When the glass pulls were inserted, they used original holes and did not enlarge them. The pairs of holes are all fine, and impressions on the wood show the shape of the plates of the original brasses.”
The most rare lot in the auction was a ship safe. Some nautical dealers admitted they had never seen one. There is currently a ship safe displayed at the Peabody Essex Museum in the exhibition “Rendezvous with the Sea.” That safe is on loan from the French National Maritime Museum. This safe sold to a local collector for $2,415.
The collector commented, “We had never seen one of those before, but it really caught our interest. It also has a good local history since it was used by a Duxbury ship captain.”
The safe’s weight kept the price down. Henry estimated the safe weighed about 400 pounds, and weightlifter Matt King found the estimate credible. One nautical dealer stated, “It is a great rarity, it’s a great rdf_Description, and it’s in wonderful condition. However, I cannot handle it. There is no way I could carry that to a show. My vehicle could not even transport it. If I sell it, how can I ship it?” Other dealers expressed similar issues in less succinct language.
Before a Nineteenth Century ship sailed from its home port, the ship safe was carried aboard and screwed to the floor of the captain’s quarters where it remained throughout the voyage. The exterior of this safe had been refinished, but the interior was in fine original condition. The underside of the wood cover pictured a spread wing eagle and text that read, “Wilder’s / Improved Salamader / 6&7 Gerrish Block / Blackstone St / Boston.” Within the wooden case was the inner iron safe with walls about four inches thick.
Top ceramic lot was a 71/4-inch Liverpool pitcher that sold for $3,163 despite being cataloged as “shows cracks.” The left side of the pitcher was decorated with a polychrome image of the bark Two Pollys. The right side had a monochrome memorial to George Washington.
Another fine ceramic lot was a Seventeenth Century Delft wine bottle that sold for $1,955 to a college professor. Through half the auction the professor sat in the second row with uncharacteristic stoicism. As soon as he won the bottle, the professor effervesced with information and congeniality. Reaching into a thick bag of reference materials, he withdrew Sotheby’s January 18, 2002 catalog for the Richard Kanter collection.
Turning to lots 550 and 551, he urged, “Look at these. Extremely bulbous Delft bottles with red clay bases, similar in form, materials, and decoration to the bottle I just bought. Both of those were dated 1649; mine is dated 1651. In New York, one sold for $22,600 and the other sold for $9,600. I think this was a great buy. I was ready to go much higher. I really wanted it, like crazy. This is a cool country auction. Everyone is having a great time, especially me.”
After furniture, the broadest area of the auction was folk art. Leading the parade was a 1939 Ford “woodie” station wagon that roared to $2,875. With an overall length of 19 inches, it was too small to pile in and go for a spin in the nearby dunes, but it was a veritable touchstone of nostalgia. During the preview, a ring of people stood about the car recalling experiences and friends associated with “woodies.”
This woodie was carved from wood, and its doors opened. Seated inside were eight figures that could be removed or shuffled from seat to seat. Apparently it was created as a toy, and figures assisted children in fantasizing adventures in the car.
Dealers Gordon and Genevieve Deming paid $2,415 for a finely painted treenware sugar bowl that oozed with Federal refinement. Three molded feet supported a graceful extended hemispherical body. The gentle upsweep of the lid accelerated near the center to a knob handle. The surface was painted in a mellow light shade of green and accented with Federal motifs in gold. Good wear and patina showed on the handle and around the rim.
Biggest surprise of the day was a two-inch miniature mahogany box with a dome-top. When Karel Henry announced that there were two absentee bids crossing at $700, the audience thought she was joking, and they laughed heartily. When the crowd quieted, bidding began at $700 and an absentee bidder eventually took the prize at $1,955.
The most interesting weathervane depicted a man wearing a high hat while riding an 1880s high-wheel bicycle. As it approached the auction block, Will Henry announced, “We were driving through Hingham and saw this weathervane on a barn, and we were able to get it for the auction.” The vane sold to a dealer for $1,265.
The weathervane bore the name “W Godfrey” for Wally Godfrey (1925-1999), a folk art carver who lived and worked in the Marstons Mills section of Mashpee, Mass. That was a good area for folk art. Decorator and painter Ralph Cahoon lived about a mile away in Cotuit, a village in Barnstable.
A rare Klamath dance apron topped a dozen lots in the Native American field when it sold for $4,485. The hanging portion of the apron was composed of strands of straw decorated with beads and pinecones. The straw hung off a band of buckskin several inches high that was intended to cover the front portion of the waist. Buckskin straps attached to either end of the band to circle the wearer’s waist and tie in the back.
The audience was blend of South Shore collectors, New England collectors and New England dealers. One familiar face was that of Stephen Stentsrom, a longtime conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts. Stentsrom reported that he has left the museum, and now is privately conserving furniture and other antiques in Boston. He attended the auction with his wife, an attorney. While he bought several wooden lots in need of restoration, she acquired some rare copper kitchenware for her collection. Numerous other couples bid in a similarly dualistic pattern.