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Portrait Tops Indiana Auction

November 30th, 2012

Unsigned 18th-century oil on canvas portrait of a gentleman, unframed, 32" x 27", $23,100.

Copper teakettle by Benjamin Harbeson, Philadelphia, $3410.

Trade sign for "H. Yoder Harness Oil," painted wood, one-sided, $2420.

Landscape by Susan Gertrude Schell (1891-1970), a member of the Philadelphia Ten, $1870.

Davies Auctions, Lafayette, Indiana

by Don Johnson

Shortly before the start of the Labor Day weekend auction held in Lafayette, Indiana, on September 1, an Illinois antiques dealer at the back of the room pointed out what he expected to be the top lot of the sale, a signed copper teakettle by Benjamin Harbeson (1728-1809). The presumption was no fluke. The teakettle, displayed front and center in the auction hall, received a lot of attention prior to the sale. Auctioneer Doug Davies of Davies Auctions said it was the piece to watch.

In a bit of irony, the dealer who talked up the teakettle did so while standing in front of the piece that turned out to be the star of the sale, an 18th-century oil on canvas portrait of a gentleman, unsigned and unframed. The painting brought $23,100 (includes buyer's premium), while the teakettle sold for $3410. Both items went to phone bidders.

The portrait, which came out of a house in Kokomo, Indiana, remained a mystery. Several weeks after the auction, Davies knew no more about it than on the day of the sale. He said the buyer was from upstate New York, and the painting was shipped to New York City. Other than that, there was nothing but conjecture.

The Harbeson teakettle was less enigmatic, having been featured on an episode of Antiques Roadshow filmed in July 2007 at Louisville, Kentucky, where Robert DuMouchelle appraised the piece at $5000.

Harbeson is known for the copperware he produced in Philadelphia during the second half of the 18th century. The teakettle had a replaced finial on the lid and minor roughness.

The uncataloged auction consisted of a private collection from Ohio, plus additions. The event had the typical feel of one of Davies's strong antiques sales. Unusual items and those with a bold visual appeal brought the highest prices. Among them was an Amish trade sign from northern Indiana. Selling for $2420, the one-sided painted-wood sign was lettered "H. Yoder Harness Oil" above a running horse. A large (26" diameter) wooden bowl in old red paint with a 5" crack brought $1210.

Artwork included an impressionistic oil on canvas landscape by Susan Gertrude Schell (1891-1970), a member of the Philadelphia Ten. The landscape, an autumn scene of a house by a stream, realized $1870.

Among the furniture was a Sheraton miniature chest of drawers, 21" high, in walnut with string inlay, with four graduated drawers. It sold for $1430. More primitive furniture included a one-piece blind-door cupboard with a deep stepback in an old finish and with just enough rodent chew on the upper doors to give the piece a bit of charisma. It brought $990.

The best of the stoneware was a four-gallon salt-glazed churn stenciled with a spread-wing eagle and "Catlettsburg Pottery Co." The maker operated out of Boyd County along the Ohio River in northeast Kentucky. The churn, which had a hairline crack, sold for $1045.

Prices were competitive throughout the day but seldom out of control, often giving bidders an opportunity to acquire decent country antiques and Americana at reasonable prices.

For more information, phone Doug Davies at (765) 449-4515.

Eagle butter print, $143.

Trade sign for "H. Yoder Harness Oil," painted wood, one-sided, $2420.

One-piece poplar cupboard, picture-frame molding, paneled doors, deep stepback, old finish, rodent chew to the upper doors, $990.

Sheraton miniature chest, walnut with inlay, four graduated drawers, paneled sides and back, 21" high, $1430.

Pennsylvania pin-top worktable with one drawer, rectangular top, old red paint, $440; wooden bowl in old red paint, 26" diameter, 5" crack, $1210.

Two-piece corner cupboard in cherry, one glazed door with 12 panes, $550.

Stenciled salt-glazed stoneware: "Catlettsburg Pottery Co." four-gallon churn with stenciled name and eagle, hairline, $1045; "A.C. Clark, Jobber in Staple & Fancy Groceries, Ironton, Ohio," quart wax-seal canning jar, $605.


Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2012 Maine Antique Digest
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