Published: April 4, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy of Willis Henry Auctions
ROCKLAND, MASS. – For his March 18-19 sale, Willis Henry put together a broad selection of Americana, needlework, marine items, stoneware, good paintings, jewelry, a collection of military presentation watches and mid-Twentieth Century sculpture and furnishings that surprised some – including the auctioneer. Correctly expected to lead the sale was an oil on canvas by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (American, 1819-1905), which brought more than three times the estimate, finishing at $62,400. The subject matter was a family of about a dozen quail, foraging for food under a sunny sky. In 1856, Nathaniel Currier used it for a large folio lithograph, titling it “The Cares of a Family,” and it was later selected as one of the top 50 Currier & Ives prints. As always, there were some bargains to be had.
Will Henry enjoys sharing the history of the objects he sells, so his catalog descriptions often include the name of the consignor and often make interesting reading. For example, a wonderful wax doll in a sealed, glass front display box included an old handwritten label on the back that named the original owner. It also indicated that the doll represented Princess Charlotte, daughter of Britain’s King George IV, who died in childbirth in 1817 at the age of 21. The label also said, “This doll was put in Mourning for the Princess Charlotte. This was the first colored dress she had after her mourning was over.” The catalog included some history about Princess Charlotte, although it did not help the price. The doll brought only $360, well below the estimate. The catalog description for a Hepplewhite candlestand also included a bit of history. The oval top was inlaid with a Federal-style eagle shield with 18 stars. The catalog informed potential bidders that Louisiana was admitted as the 18th state in 1812, thereby probably being a dependable date for the construction of the stand.
The candlestand, along with most other “brown” furniture, did not bring the expected prices. Early country pieces did much better. An exceptional Eighteenth Century hutch table in old red with an intricately carved and curved base that had been given a full-page illustration in Wallace Nutting’s Furniture Treasury finished at $10,800. Far exceeding the estimate was a chip carved, ten spindle, table top tape loom with a carved date of 1737. Henry said he was unsure if it was American, but bidders probably believed it was, as it reached $7,200. A French Canadian open hutch, with raised triangular paneled doors and pintail hinges, cataloged as Eighteenth Century, also sold over its estimate, finishing at $4,800.
Marine items included a ship captain’s writing desk and ephemera. It had belonged to Captain Winslow Whiting, who commanded the barque Volant, which sailed out of Plymouth, Mass. The desk contained handwritten accounts of a fire on board in 1860, bills of lading, receipts, cartes-de-visites, letters from the captain to his wife, eyeglass cases and more. It sold to a bidder in the room for $2,760. An important George III telescope, circa 1770, signed Edward Nairne, London, realized $960. It was a single draw brass and mahogany instrument that opened to 53 inches. An Eskimo scrimshawed cribbage board made from the lower jawbone of a walrus reached $420, and a quarter board from the ship Helena, which sank off the coast of Scituate, Mass., in 1909, finished at $1,800. It was accompanied by a newspaper article by Edward Rowe Snow, had been in the Torrey Little collection and was bought by a local historical society.
A small selection of mid-Twentieth Century modern furniture, sculpture and lithographs was well received and drew active bidding from the room, phones and internet. Two large bronze sculptures by Sergio Castillo (Chilean, 1925-2010) sold well over the estimates. Castillo studied in Paris and was in residence at Boston University (BU), starting in 1985. Three of his large pieces stand in front of the Metcalf Science Center at BU. His 47-1/2-inch-tall, multi-arc bronze achieved $5,700 against an estimate of $2,000. Its opening internet bid was $2,700.
A second bronze, about the same size, of a bird in flight, earned $4,500 against an estimate of $1,200. Castillo’s work was the subject of a lecture at BU in October 2016. A 1930s tea cart by Alvar Aalto (Finnish, 1898-1976) made of bent birch plywood may have been a good buy, reaching only $1,800. The sale included seven lithographs by Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, (French, 1887-1965) each of which generated strong, competitive bidding. Finishing at $4,800 was “Femme a la Main Levee” (Woman with Raised Hand). It was signed at the bottom in the stone “L-C, 54,” and a pair of black and white lithographs from the series “Les Petites Confidences” earned $5,700.
The sale included a number of unrelated, but interesting items. An ingenious liquor dispenser that held four inverted liquor bottles, each feeding into a patented, brass dispenser, by Gaskell & Chambers Ltd earned $780. An 1831 Irish schoolgirl needlework map of Ireland by Sarah Kennedy, Belfast, fetched $3,240.
A trompe l’oeil oil on Masonite by contemporary artist David Brega (American, b 1947), showing the cover of a Collier’s magazine taped to a wooden door with wrought iron hinges, reached $7,800. Brega’s first solo exhibition was at New York’s Alexander Gallery in 1986. That exhibition, “Trompe l’oeil: The Provocative Language of Illusion,” sold out within 15 minutes of its opening, and his work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions since then.
Sold the evening before the Saturday Americana sale, a separately cataloged collection of military timepieces that had belonged to Commander William Bricker did quite well. Bricker served in World War II and retired with the rank of Naval Air Group commander. He was a past president of the Society of Military Horologists and was editor of the group’s newsletter for several years. The collection included numerous watches that had been presented to, and/or owned by well-known public figures, such as General Jimmy Doolittle, Admiral Richard Byrd, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel and others.
Nearly all the presentation watches sold well over their estimates. The pocket watch that belonged to famed Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton brought the highest price of the collection. It had been made by the London watchmaker Herbert Blockley and was engraved on the back, “Royal Geographical Society Sir Ernest Shackleton” with a date of 1907. In that year, Shackleton had returned from one of his voyages and later, in 1916, gained international fame after guiding his crew to safety after their ship was crushed by ice. His heroic exploits were widely reported, and his watch sold for $9,600.
A watch that had belonged to Civil War Admiral David Farragut brought $5,100. It was engraved on the back “To Preserve the Union D.G. Farragut 1861.” A watch that had belonged to arctic explorer Admiral Richard Byrd brought $4,200. It was engraved “R.E. Byrd” and had been used by Byrd during his explorations in the arctic and Antarctic. Will Henry said that the collection was consigned to him as a result of a house call to look at a piece of Shaker furniture. The piece was not Shaker, he did not buy it, but it led to the consignment of the watch collection.
After the sale, Will Henry said, “Overall, I’m pleased with the way it went. We had a good crowd in the room and a good assortment of material. Some days I believe that our way of doing business is obsolete, but sales like this one show that we’re not extinct yet. One of the things I enjoy about selling to a live crowd is that so many are really interested in the stories that go with some of the things.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.willishenryauctions.com or 781-834-7774.
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