Published: August 10, 2021
Review & Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Willis Henry Auctions
PLYMOUTH, MASS. – August got off to a good start as Will Henry’s sale on the first of the month offered a wide selection of fresh merchandise, almost all sourced from local, South Shore families. You name it, it was there: Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century furniture, weathervanes, folk art, stoneware, redware, Hingham buckets, other woodenware, native American items, Asian items, historical lithographs, marine items, American paintings, decoys, and the list could go on. One of the true rarities in the sale was a manuscript journal kept by an officer in the American Revolutionary war, discussing military subject matters, along with a ledger he kept recording payments to troops and others.
The unpublished journal and related material, which sold for $87,500, the highest price of the sale, had been kept by Captain Benjamin Beal, from Hingham, Mass. It came to the Henry auction through the family of local historian Solomon Lincoln, who published a history of the town of Hingham in 1827 and also wrote other books on local history. Lincoln transcribed the diary sometime in the early Nineteenth Century, making it easier to read, and that copy was included. Henry said it was consigned by a retired schoolteacher who often consigns thing to his sales. “She always seems to keep the best item to the end, often showing me unexciting things first,” said Henry. “The diary had come down in her family, and she also gave me some of the Hingham buckets, saying, ‘I know you always do well with these.'”
On March 17, 1776, British troops evacuated Boston after a nearly one-year-long siege by the Continental Army under the command of George Washington. Washington then ordered five regiments to march to New York, where they would later be ordered north, eventually to take part in the battles in Canada, part of Washington’s failed attempt to capture Canada. One company making that march from Cambridge to Brooklyn had been commanded by Captain Benjamin Beal. His diary, with daily entries, covered the period from March 17, 1776, to December 6 of that year, and described the events and hardships on that march, including details on what the troops had to eat and what they wore – many had no shoes. It was accompanied by his ledger recording payments to soldiers and others during that time period. The diary clearly shows that officers were somewhat immune from some of the sufferings of the ordinary soldiers. Benjamin Beal died in 1814. A relative, Caleb Bingham, was a silversmith in Boston.
The sale also included several items of Civil War interest, many of which had been consigned by the family of Thomas Welles, a descendant of Gideon Welles, Lincoln’s secretary of the Navy. A hide-covered trunk with a photo of Welles, decorated with brass tacks and the initials GW sold for $875. The trunk contained a group of 19 items, which sold as one lot for $23,750, one of the higher prices of the sale. The lot included belts and buckles, cartridge cases, a pair of child’s leather boots, tooled leather wallets and more. One of the buckles showed a bearded portrait of the Roman god Neptune. “Father Neptune” was Gideon Welles’ nickname, and this item may have encouraged the bidding. A large American school painting done in the Civil War era, or shortly thereafter, depicting Lady Liberty with a crown holding the Emancipation Proclamation, brought the second highest price of the day, $31,250. She was shown standing in front of an American flag held by a freed slave, and the painting also depicted broken leg irons, a cannon, as well as another freed slave. It was initialed “M. Horburg,” who has not been further identified.
It’s a fairly safe bet that Will Henry sales will include Hingham woodenware, and the selection this time was led by a rare nesting set of three miniature boxes, each lapped and retaining the original surface. The smallest box was three-quarters of an inch in diameter and the largest was just 1¾ inches. The active competition for this set ended at $4,688. A swing-handled miniature firkin with original surface, 3½ inches tall to the top of its handle, stamped “CH” for Cotton Hersey, with his signature in pencil, earned $1,875. A 2-inch-tall tub, perhaps a toy, stamped on the bottom “CH,” brought $500. Members of the Hersey family were prominent makers of woodenware in Hingham, which had more than 400 coopers involved in that industry. The town became known as “bucket town.” A book on the subject, Bucket Town: Woodenware and Wooden Toys of Hingham, MA, 1635-1945 by Derin Bray, has more information on the subject. Other woodenware also did well, with two 10-inch firkins, one in original red and the other in original green, bringing $594.
The sale started off with a selection of stoneware and redware. Drawing the most interest of the stoneware selection was a large, two-handled ovoid crock with an incised bird on a leaf, stamped “R. Seymour/Troy,” which reached $1,875. A Nineteenth Century lidded stoneware crock with an engraved label sold for less than Will Henry thought it would. The label indicated that it had contained Maccoboy Snuff, sold by Henry Slade of Boston. The engraving, probably a stock image, depicted a sailor and an Indian with a pipe. The fact that it had a crack probably kept the price down to $100. A circa 1840 redware single-handled jug, probably made by John Corliss, Days Ferry, Maine, with a distinctive, colorful glaze, sold for $188.
The sale included a selection of early American furniture. Although it didn’t bring the highest price of the offerings, one piece in particular had a very unusual form. The late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century child’s high chair retained its original red surface, the four legs were nicely turned, and the back legs were canted backwards below the seat, probably to improve the balance for an active child. The chair was maple with two tall turned finials, and it sold for just $188. An early continuous arm child’s Windsor chair in an old green finish realized $2,813. The chair was stamped T.C. Hayward and labeled “made for Mary Hayward, 1804, when she was 5 years old.” Bidders liked a Seventeenth Century New England spindle-back armchair, pushing it to $6,250. It had been found in Connecticut, had a dark patina, three turned spindles and heavy, turned finials. Bidders also liked a pair of Eighteenth Century brace-back Windsor nine-spindled side chairs with worn green paint and heavily turned, splayed legs. The pair finished at $2,500.
Will Henry said he was pleased with the sale. “We grossed more than $350,000 so that’s fine. I was surprised at some of the items that were passed but the interest in the Revolutionary War diary was good to see. I knew it was good, but the final price was a nice surprise – both to me and to the retired schoolteacher who had consigned it. I like to see that.” And the day after the sale Henry was on a house call looking at “some really great stuff.” So there’s more to come.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.willishenry.com or 781-834-7774.
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