Published: April 12, 2016
Kamelot Auction Of Gibson & Merriam Estate Property
Review and Onsite Photos by Jill Fenichell;
Additional Photos Courtesy Kamelot Auctions
PHILADELPHIA, PENN. — It is not often that an estate sale reminds one of the set of the movie Citizen Kane, with its fabulous panning shots of the decrepit castle Xanadu fading into rows of jumbled, cobweb-laden medieval, Gothic and Renaissance decorative objects and paintings, but that was precisely the vibe at Kamelot Auctions’ March 22 sale of the contents of “Maybrook,” a Philadelphia castle home. Bidders in person and online were drawn to the allure of historic offerings from the prestigious Philadelphia city home and Main Line mansion that belonged to Henry C. Gibson. The 450-lot auction grossed $1.4 million, far in excess of estimates.
After living in Europe, Gibson inherited his father’s thriving distillery business, but went into real estate on his return. He and his wife and their two children lived at 1612 Chestnut Street (demolished 1928), where items purchased on a Grand Tour of the continent in 1878–1879 were assembled. Gibson’s taste reflected the artistic and historical interests of aesthetes of the time — a polyglot mix of Asian, Middle Eastern, European and North African. Gibson also ordered custom furniture from American craftsmen that combined these influences.
Several of the rooms of this home were illustrated in the classic Artistic Houses, first published in 1883, and reissued by Dover as The Opulent Interiors of the Gilded Age in 1987. There was an art gallery in the top floor, a “Moorish” sitting room decorated with Asian, Persian and Indian objects, a medieval-style drawing room, a reception room and an enormous dining room.
A photograph of the dining room at 1612 Chestnut shows a suite of oak oval table, expandable with 14 leaves into a 22-foot-long table, and 18 unique chairs, carved with griffins in neo-Gothic style, which sold at Kamelot for $30,750 and $23,750, respectively, to two separate buyers. Knowledgeable collectors and trade identified these as being by Daniel Pabst, who was born in Germany and arrived in Philadelphia in 1849. He worked there until his death in 1910, creating some of the most lavish handcrafted furniture made in the late Nineteenth Century.
A set of four Nineteenth Century carved marble columns with carved capitals that were in the original art gallery room at 1612 Chestnut home, also illustrated in Artistic Homes, sold for $37,500.
Gibson decided to build a mansion house out on the Main Line in the 1870s, before taking his family back to Europe. He acquired 67 acres and called the home “Maybrook.” He hired brother architects George and William Hewitt, who combined medieval flourishes within a Scots castle in 1881. The house was among the costliest built in that period on the Main Line.
When Gibson died, he left most of his collection of Barbizon and Continental paintings to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, on whose board he served from 1870 to 1890. Maybrook was left to his daughter May, who never married, but lavished attention on building the home into an even grander manse, adding a 50-foot-high, two-story ballroom, a library and a conservatory. John Merriam bought part of the land in the early 1950s and the balance with premises when May died a couple years later.
At Maybrook, the furniture and paintings included things from 1612 Chestnut, things from Europe and things especially designed for the interior. Merriam kept the contents largely intact while living at Maybrook with his first wife, and even when he lived there with Betty Lockyer, his secretary, who — after serving him for 40 years — became his second wife. Betty died in 2001 and left the home to her son Robert Lockyer, by her first husband. Lockyer’s plan to develop apartments and houses on some of the adjacent lands ended up in a court battle with Merion township. The case was resolved in Lockyer’s favor in 2013, thus setting into motion the emptying of the home now.
Though Kamelot billed the sale as the contents of Maybrook, true Philadelphia and Aesthetic-period historians were aware that many of those things auctioned were originally from the downtown home of Gibson. The Pabst suite was part of the personal collection of the original owner of Maybrook, Henry C. Gibson. The latter section of the auction also included furniture and decorations from mixed consignors.
Leigh Keno of Keno Auctions and Leslie Keno of Leslie Keno Art Advisory drove down from New York, on the scent of something special that they could not resist. Despite the fact that much of the furniture in the auction was by Continental craftsmen and artists who achieved fame as Americans — Herter, Henkles, Pabst, Bach — the Kenos were intrigued by a French desk-form bureau plat, cataloged as Louis XV style. The ormolu mounts and kingwood veneer were of a type favored by the king, and in period; many premier ebonistes made examples. Additionally, the eboniste Francois Linke made many copies of this form in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, varying in size and type very little from the originals. Leigh Keno paid $8,750 for the bureau from Maybrook and said he will research it further.
Another lot of French interest, a suite of four red-and-golden-yellow Aubusson tapestry-woven panels depicting colorful flower bouquets in architectural surrounds, each inscribed, “Manu Royale d’Aubusson” and dated 1741, sold for $22,500 to a bidder in the salesroom against a left bid.
Of the many carpets sold from Maybrook itself, a 17-foot-9-inch-by-29-foot-8-inch Meshed, circa 1900, which had been at the dining room of 1612 Chestnut and also illustrated in Artistic Homes, sold for $40,000. The field of the carpet was covered with red, blue and taupe floral details.; having been laid under the rarely used dining room table, the rug was in good condition.
Asian objects fetched the highest prices of the day. This is a trend noticeable at smaller auction houses over the last 15 years, as more and more Chinese appear to be interested in purchasing and bringing back items exported long ago. In some cases, the period of time the items reside in the West serves to legitimize the age of the object itself, which legitimacy serves as a kind of guarantee of age to the new buyer or his/her client. A bronze, wood, jade and assorted semiprecious stone inlaid Chinese table screen, circa 1870, sold for $76,800 to an Internet bidder. A matched pair of Chinese vases painted with emperors and inscriptions realized $53,750.
The auction included some appropriate artwork for a historical home, including a pair of enormous (84 by 45 inches) oval paintings of birds with still-lifes of food and dishes within giltwood baroque-style frames. Attributed to the Flemish School, they are possible copies of Melchior d’Hondecoeter. These sold for $35,000. Another large painting suitable for a castle, the life-size portrait of a woman by Joseph F. Matheus, 86½ by 50½ inches, fetched $6,562. The subject — could she be May Gibson at one of her own balls? — is depicted wearing a richly figured pale-pink silk-satin evening gown and opera-length gloves.
Local collectors and dealers came out to the auction to bid and to see what sold and for how much, some actively able to buy and others only to watch. For Joel Zittler, owner of Oley Valley Architectural Antiques of Denver, Penn., the sale was a great catch — he specializes in bars and in gothic-looking furniture, which he sells, and rents to sets such as Gotham, shot in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard. For specialists in American Aesthetic-period furniture, the sale was frustrating. Consultant and private dealer Andrew Van Styn of Baltimore and Florida made two trips to the auction house to view the Pabst chairs, and still came away empty handed. A private bidder, who did not want to be identified, thought the sale was incredible, with the spirit of Henry C. Gibson hanging in the air.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.kamelotauctions.com or 215-438-6990.
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