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A "Perfect" Clock and a Bright Red Ferrari

Jeanne Schinto | November 2nd, 2013

Three room bidders and three on phones vied for the month-duration astronomical regulator in an 84½" tall figured walnut case. Made by M. Allard circa 1825 in Paris, it sold to a phone bidder for $96,000 (est. $20,000/40,000). There is handwriting is on the inside back door, and it says “à M. Allard/ Rue St. Antoine.”

This Ferrari Dino 246 GT, built April 1972, sold for $216,000 (est. $140,000/240,000). Schinto photo.

This cased model 1852 presentation sword, retailed circa 1901 by Bigelow, Kennard & Co., sold for $31,200 (est. $20,000/30,000), along with an archive of memorabilia that belonged to presentee Frank Wildes (1843-1903), a Spanish-American War hero. The photo, included in the lot, shows him on the day of the presentation in 1902. The gloves he’s wearing in the photo were part of the lot. The sword box was closed and locked after the ceremony. It was reopened at Skinner for the first time on July 17, 2013, revealing the contents to the consignor.

This carte-de-visite album relating to the Civil War sold to an Internet bidder for $23,370 (est. $4000/6000). Included were 58 Lincoln-related examples, among them one of Mary Todd Lincoln with two of her sons.

Early European swords and rapiers did well. This one, which dates from the late 16th or early 17th century, went for $8610 (est. $1000/1500). The pierced counter-guard is decorated with a Maltese cross; the steel blade is marked on one side with “C.V.N.S.D.” and a series of dots; the other side has “R.V.T.C.M.B.” Its overall length is 45¼".

Here’s a 5'3" previewer with the taller and lighter colored of the two Tiffany & Company tall clocks in quartersawn oak cases attributed to R.J. Horner. This one is 121" with a German movement and quarter-chiming tubular bell system. It sold to a phone bidder for $72,000 (est. $60,000/80,000). Skinner put it out in the stairwell, because it wouldn’t fit in the preview room. Schinto photo.

At 112", this is the shorter Tiffany quarter-chiming tall clock in a quartersawn oak case attributed to R.J. Horner and with movement by Waltham Clock Company and Walter Durfee tubular bells. It sold on the phone for $84,000 (est. $60,000/80,000). Schinto photo.

This monumental (35" x 28½" x 11") gilt and marble figural mantel clock, made circa 1860 by Hemon, Paris, France, sold to an Internet bidder for $27,060 (est. $4000/6000).

There were over three dozen button lots, and they took a while to sell. Estimates were low, and there was a lot of bidding. This single circa 1781 button in pewter with “MAS VII REG” (i.e., 7th Massachusetts Regiment) in raised lettering on its face sold in the room for $2520 (est. $400/600).

Skinner, Inc., Marlborough, Massachusetts

Photos courtesy Skinner

Precision timekeepers, historic militaria, and Civil War photography were among the categories that caused buzz in collecting circles during the weeks leading up to Skinner’s sale of clocks, watches, and scientific instruments in Marlborough, Massachusetts, on November 2, 2013. The auction offered 755 lots, enough to furnish innumerable man caves and a few woman caves too. It achieved nearly $1.9 million (including buyers’ premiums) with a sell-through rate of more than 86%.

During a gallery walk the night before the sale, department director Robert C. Cheney, a third-generation clockmaker and horology scholar, highlighted what turned out to be the top clock lot. It was a French floor-standing astronomical regulator in a figured walnut case. Made circa 1825 in Paris by M. Allard, it is capable of running for one month on a single wind, has a temperature-compensating grid-iron pendulum, and shows hours, minutes, seconds, and the equation of time (briefly, the difference between sun time and clock time). Estimated at $20,000/40,000, it went on the phone to an overseas bidder for $96,000, underbid in the room by a representative of a European museum.

“How many opportunities come around for you to see what something should really look like?” Cheney rhetorically asked his audience that night at the preview. The Allard was, in other words, the very essence of “right.” No one here, in France, or anywhere else had monkeyed with its movement or its case. “The woodwork on this is absolutely original,” he said. “The patina is wonderful. The nails, fixtures, hinges, you name it—this clock is exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” Many people, he added, “would look at the inside of this clock and say, ‘Oh, it’s brand new.’ Well, it’s not brand new. It’s just perfect. And to see a survival like this is a great opportunity.”

For those who need a primer, astronomical regulators are clocks known for their extreme accuracy. They were primarily owned by places such as observatories, jewelry stores where watchmakers and clockmakers worked, and railroads. Several other examples were in this sale including two by E. Howard & Company of Boston. A circa 1890 No. 100 wall-hanging model opened at the desk at $9000, three times the low estimate. That was only the beginning. The clock with an eight-day time-only movement in a mahogany case went at $42,000 to phone bidder 946.

Like the Allard, this was a clock in remarkable condition. “You would never know that clock had ever even been wound,” Cheney said. “It’s also extremely rare, and many people, including myself, had never seen one, and with me that goes back more than forty years. We knew it would do better than the estimate, but I don’t think anybody guessed it would hammer that high.”

The same bidder bought a Howard No. 25 regulator with a 30-day movement in an 80" tall drum-head mahogany case. Made circa 1875, the clock once stood in the office of the president of the New York Central Railroad. Later, after a merger, it went to the president and CEO of Penn Central Railroad. Estimated at $60,000/80,000, it opened from the desk and went just one bid more, ending at $58,800.

Having a 30-day movement, which requires a monthly wind, made it rarer than an eight-day version. “If it had been a thirty-day in perfect condition, the price would have doubled,” Cheney said. “Thirty-day helped it, but condition held it back.” The “bumps and bruises” were “honestly” earned—after all, it had been in a work environment—but today’s collectors are very fussy, Cheney noted. “Hence, the seemingly less-than-usual price tag. Actually, I thought it was about right for its sorts of condition issues.”

Two mammoth tubular-chime clocks came from the same consignor. “Rarely do you see one, much less two,” said Cheney. Retailed circa 1890 by Tiffany & Company of New York, they were easily the biggest horological pieces in the sale, standing 112" and 121" tall respectively. Each was in a quartersawn oak case elaborately carved with figures, fruit, florals, and other filigree attributed to R.L. Horner. Who would have bought something like this new? “The richest man in Cincinnati,” quipped an American museum curator who was at the preview.

True enough, said Cheney, but they were found more frequently in hotels. “I gave a lecture a couple of summers ago at a decorative arts conference in New Orleans” (i.e., the 2012 New Orleans Antiques Forum) “and I walked into the Hotel Monteleone and—my God!—there was one of these enormous clocks standing in the front lobby. I was told it was the only object removed from the hotel when Hurricane Katrina came through.”

The case of the smaller one was dark as charcoal with a pierced and carved griffin crest and Father Time figures. The movement was by the Waltham Clock Company, Waltham, Massachusetts. The tubular bells were by Walter Durfee, who revived popular interest in tall clocks during the Victorian era by marketing examples like this one as status symbols. It went to a phone bidder for $84,000 on a $60,000/80,000 estimate.

The case of the taller one was lighter colored with a pierced crest that featured maidens. Lower down, there were more maidens with arms crossed over bare breasts. The movement was German, not a preferred American or English one; the tubular bells were German too. The clock sold for the low estimate to a different phone bidder, who paid $72,000.

The insides weren’t what made it the also-ran, however. “I think people preferred the darker one,” Cheney speculated. “They both, remarkably, were in original finish. I think these were finished to order, depending on what the hotel or wealthy homeowner’s place was like.”

Joel Bohy is Skinner’s historic arms and militaria specialist, and the lot in his section that caused one of the biggest stirs came to the auction house last May in a locked case without a key. The case was a rectangle several feet long. The consignor had no idea what was in it. She brought it in with other items that had belonged to one of her ancestors, Rear Admiral Frank Wildes (1843-1903), U.S.N, who had commanded the cruiser Boston during the capture of Manila Bay.

Bohy did some research and learned that Wildes
had been given a presentation sword by the city of Boston in gratitude for his role in the war. Bohy called in the consignor and a locksmith for the opening of the case. Inside was a sword with a dazzling 18k gold hilt. The steel blade was inscribed to
Wildes and engraved with a scene from the battle. The scabbard was black leather with an 18k gold throat and other ornamentation. The case itself was lined inside with red broadcloth and marked in gold with the name of the retailer, Bigelow, Kennard & Co.

“Wildes was from Boston, and the city wanted to do something for him,” said Bohy. “They had thought of giving him a house. They came up with the sword idea instead, and I’m glad they did, because if it had been a house, it would have been long gone.” Including memorabilia related to Wildes, such as his epaulets, white kid gloves, calling cards, a photograph, and a flag, the lot sold to a collector of naval swords for $31,200.

Sold for $15,600 was a circa 1853 Colt model 1851 that was factory-engraved to a Confederate officer who fought at Gettysburg. The inscription says, “T.J. Eubanks 48th Regt. Ala. Vols. from the Officers of his Company.” It is further engraved “for Gallantry July 1-3, 1863.” Captain Thomas James Eubanks “attacked Little Round Top three times with major losses, and he’s mentioned in the official reports,” said Bohy. “After the battle, they retreated down South, and he was married in Alabama. Three weeks later, he was back out, at Chickamauga, and he died. He was shot and killed. And his friend brought him back home with the pistol to his wife, who was now a widow.”

The gun for which bidders went as high as $23,000 was a similar Colt model 1851 that had no history whatsoever. It had never been fired. Made circa 1861, it came to the sale from a consignor whose family had handed it down. Never before on the market, it was thought to have sold for $27,600 (with buyer’s premium). Bohy said, “It was just pristine. I was really taken aback when I saw it for the first time.” Later, he reported, “There was some issue with it, so the sale didn’t go through.”

The word on the street was that the Abraham Lincoln people, along with the elite of the Civil War crowd (rather than collectors of vintage photography per se) were the major contenders for the star photography lot. Hammered down during Bohy’s section of the sale, it was an album of 98 cartes de visite relating to the Civil War. There were 58 images of Lincoln in it. With competition from two people in the room, it brought $23,370 from a bidder on the Internet. One of the album’s highlights was a CDV captioned “Mrs. Lincoln & Sons.” The threesome is Mary Todd Lincoln with Will and Tad. That rarity alone was valued at approximately $5000 by an expert who attended the auction. Skinner’s modest estimate for the whole lot was $4000/6000. (Postscript: The buyer listed the Mrs. Lincoln CDV on eBay, and it sold for $6900.)

The expert, who asked for anonymity, added that the album’s condition was “good” and its content was “very good quality overall.” Included were many common CDVs, but, besides the Mary Todd Lincoln, there were also some good views of Lincoln’s funeral procession. The expert guessed it had been assembled by a Lincoln scholar over the last few decades rather than by a family of the period. Bohy said that was correct.

Other lots of cartes de visite and cabinet cards made very competitive prices, going at $3480, $2400, and $4305, against three-digit estimates. The examples were mostly related to the Civil War but also included postwar figures and tradesmen pictured with their tools (“occupationals”).

The sale of a vintage Ferrari took place at the start of the sale. While automobiles are not the usual fare for this department, the outcome was a significant percentage of the bottom line. The bright red 1972 Dino 246 GT was the top lot overall. A friend who belongs to a Ferrari club in California said in an e-mail that these cars are “going through the roof” lately. He opined that it would be a steal for under $200,000. (“Grab it if you can.”) Estimated at $140,000/240,000, it sold for $216,000—not, alas, in my price range. But I did once drive a Ferrari, in 1975, while writing an article exploring the “sports car mystique.” It was a pre-owned 365 GTB, known as the Daytona. The dealer took me for a drive, then I somehow persuaded him to let me take the wheel. This was in Virginia, out near the F.B.I. headquarters in Langley, on a fine autumn afternoon. In youth, one doesn’t realize that opportunities like that may never come around again.

This department’s next sale is scheduled for May 4. For more information, phone Skinner at (508) 970-3000 or see the Web site (

This Frodsham astronomical regulator, with dial engraved “Chas. Frodsham, 84 Strand London, 1876,” sold to an Internet bidder for $23,370 (est. $10,000/15,000). Height of the mahogany case is 51". The six-pillar brass movement has a deadbeat escapement and maintaining power, two-jar mercury pendulum, and elaborate six-crossing pulley suspending a single brass-case weight.

This circa 1880 astronomical regulator by J.W. Benson of London sold in the room for $14,400 (est. $5000/7000). The walnut round-top case is 75" tall. The dial is engraved “J.W. Benson, London/ By Special Appointment to her Majesty the Queen.” The eight-day movement has a deadbeat escapement and mercury temperature-compensating pendulum. The clock has retained its original winding key.

This mid-18th-century Japanese double-foliot dai tokei (“clock tower”) with weight-powered iron movement and alarm sold on the phone for $16,800 (est. $5000/8000). Including its hardwood stand, it measures 32" tall. This and two other Japanese examples came out of a collection of Japanese and Chinese clocks.

This early 20th-century diving suit in copper and canvas sold for $6600 (est. $400/600). No size was given. The small hinged glazed viewing window has multiple ports, including one marked “Telephone.” Even back then, some people just couldn’t seem to put down their phone.

This 23" tall petite sonnerie skeleton calendar clock with remontoire sold to a phone bidder for $45,000 (est. $20,000/30,000). It was made circa 1830 by Texier, Paris, France. “This clock had a somewhat major hiccup in that it was not with its original dome,” Cheney said. “But how often do you see a perpetual skeleton calendar clock with remontoire and glass bells to boot?”


This circa 1890 E. Howard & Company No. 100 wall regulator fetched $42,000 (est. $3000/5000). The Boston clock is in a 47" mahogany case. The signed, painted zinc dial has a 14" diameter. The eight-day movement is time only.

Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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