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A Time Capsule of Chinese Export Material

Lita Solis-Cohen | January 17th, 2014

Pair of monumental China trade oil on canvas panoramic landscapes, attributed to Youqua (active 1840-70), circa 1840, $768,000 (est. $150,000/250,000) to collectors in the room. Tibbits collection.

According to the catalog, the first oil depicts “the hongs at Canton with a bustling harbor scene in front displaying hundreds of Chinese boats and the stone folly fort; in the distance on the right is the flowery pagoda and the five-story watchtower, the only buildings that survive to this day. The second work shows the opposing shore of the Pearl River and the island of Honam, similarly painted with a plethora of Chinese ships with figures busying themselves.

“These newly discovered works stand at the pinnacle of China trade views. At 35" x 80" they are the largest examples known and rival any in their fine detail, which is still visible under layers of old varnish. Both retain their original solid rosewood frames. A nearly identical example of Canton (Guangzhou) by Youqua is in the collection of the Guangdong Provincial Museum and measures a slightly smaller 33½" x 78". Also a related pair depicting Canton and Hong Kong is at the Peabody Essex Museum, 31½" x 72½".”

China trade oil on canvas portrait of the Chinese statesman Aison Gioro Keying, circa 1840, inscribed on frame reverse “Keying the Great Chinese Commissioner,” 24" x 18", $66,000 (est. $15,000/25,000) to a local collector in the room. Tibbits collection.

According to the catalog, “Keying was a highly influential figure in mid-19th-century China, negotiating the treaty with Britain after the first Opium War and later treaties with the United States, Sweden-Norway, and France, which collectively became known as the ‘Unequal Treaties.’ He later attempted to negotiate an end to the second Opium War but left the negotiations after being humiliated by the British. He was sentenced to death by the Chinese government but allowed to commit suicide instead in 1858.”

Virginia redware candlestick by Anthony Baecher, circa 1880, stamped “Baecher Winchester VA” on the underside three times, with knopped shaft, applied coleslaw decoration, and a mottled brown and cream glaze, 10" high, $60,000 (est. $35,000/45,000). This is the only known example of this form.

China trade oil on canvas of the anchorage at Cumsingmum with two figures beside a crenelated wall with a river and ships in the background, attributed to Youqua, 18" x 23½", $21,600 (est. $3000/5000) to a phone bidder. The wall was built in 1837 to deter Westerners involved with the opium trade. This unusual view is identical to another in the Sze Yuan Tang collection. Tibbits collection.

Carved and painted peg wooden doll with original clothing, early 19th century, 18" high, together with two miniature baskets and a note inscribed “Sarah M. Tibbits her doll,” $5520 (est. $400/600) to Ellicott City, Maryland, dealer Marion Maus in the room. Tibbits collection.

Pook & Pook, Inc., Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Photos courtesy Pook & Pook

Captain Hall Jackson Tibbits (1797-1872) was a tyrannical old salt who engaged in the China trade, sailing from New York to Canton as his father had done and dealing primarily in tea and silk. Just 24 when his father died, he was one of the youngest ship masters in the China trade. Six feet four inches tall and powerfully built, he was strong and smart and apparently a good sailor, taking clipper ships to China and South America for nearly three decades.

Nevertheless, he was not universally loved. His crews mutinied twice. The second time was on a voyage to San Francisco in 1849 during the Gold Rush, according to a history written by W.Z. Gardner in 1958.

Perhaps that encouraged Tibbits to retire at age 55. In 1852 he bought a 127-acre farm in Sands Point, Long Island, New York, and over time he expanded the house to 24 rooms and built a large porch so he could watch the sea. He furnished the house with the curios from his trips to China: furniture, silver, porcelain, navigational instruments, books, ship models, campaign trunks, and paintings.

They were passed down in his family and remained as he had left them until the Sands Point house was sold in 1959. Then the contents were removed to a relative’s barn in Wading River, New York. That family is downsizing now, and its members asked auctioneer Ron Pook of Pook & Pook, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, to take it all for sale.

Pook said when he walked into the barn, he found a time capsule that had not been touched for 50 years. In addition to China trade paintings, marine instruments, and souvenirs, he found New York furniture and 19th-century American paintings.

Pook asked retired Peabody Essex Museum curator William Sargent to help him catalog the China trade items, and at five o’clock on Friday, January 17, an hour before the two-day auction began, Sargent gave an informative talk about some of the objects. Included in the discussion was a pair of 35" x 80" paintings attributed to the Chinese artist Youqua (active 1840-70) that depict the opposite banks of the Pearl River and are in their original rosewood frames.

Sargent explained that one of the pair shows the hongs at Canton with the landmark Tang Dynasty five-story watchtower visible; the other is the view across the Pearl River from the hongs in Canton with more ships in the bustling harbor. They are the largest China trade paintings known. A similar view of Canton in the Guangdong Provincial Museum in China is slightly smaller, and a related pair depicting Canton and Hong Kong are in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

Sargent said the Tibbits paintings should stay together, and the pair was offered as one lot (est. $150,000/250,000). There was plenty of bidding in the room and on the phones until the pair was knocked down for $768,000 (including buyer’s premium) to a collector and his wife in the room. They were encouraged to buy them by Millbrook, New York, advisor William Stahl.

The Tibbits consignment brought a total of $1,229,053, well over the $326,050/553,000 total estimates, and another 57 lots of China trade goods had been added to the sale. The Friday night session concluded with Oriental rugs, including a circa 1940 15' x 11'4" Heriz carpet that sold for $6600 (est. $1500/2500) and a circa 1910 7'4" x 4'5" Kashan garden carpet that made $6000 (est. $1000/2000).

On Saturday morning, January 18, the selling began with a large group of hooked rugs from the collections of Kristina Barbara Johnson (d. 2013) of Princeton, New Jersey, who called them “apple pie for the eye.” They were well received, and all were in restorable condition. Pictorial rugs made in the 20th century by James L. and Mercedes Hutchinson sold for $3360 and $2400, within estimates. Rugs with cats on them sold well, including a 35½" x 49" rug with a big tabby cat (est. $200/300) that sold for $3840 to Ruth Rogers of School House Farm Antiques, New Holland, Pennsylvania. Rogers underbid “Pick of the Litter,” a 21" x 27" rug depictingsix white piglets and a white sow on a blue ground; it sold for $2280 to a phone bidder. The majority of the rugs brought less than $500 apiece.

A group of bird carvings by Berks County, Pennsylvania, carver Joseph Moyer (1883-1962) came from another consignor and sold well. Most of them are illustrated in Richard and Rosemarie Machmer’s Just for Nice. A Moyer toucan sold for $3840, and two of his painted songbirds sold separately for $3120 and $3600.

There were good buys in furniture. A Schwenkfelder painted dower chest, dated 1815 and inscribed “Jacob Hubner” on an orange grained ground, sold for $26,400; in May 2004 Pook & Pook had sold it for $43,700. A two-part Dutch cupboard sold for $10,800; in November 2005 at Freeman’s auction of the Ludwig collection, it had sold for $21,510.

Some expensive furniture and clocks failed to sell. Ron Pook said a Reading, Pennsylvania, clock by Rose and Little that was bought in at $16,000 (est. $25,000/35,000) had sold after the auction.

Of the 937 lots offered, 898 (96%) sold, and the two-day sale totaled $2,614,890 (including buyers’ premiums). There was plenty of on-line bidding; 22.7% of the lots sold on line on Friday night, and 21% on Saturday, but that came to only 10% of the sale in dollars.

This auction kicked off Pook & Pook’s 30th year in business. Its next two-day cataloged auction is scheduled for April 25 and 26—head-to-head with the Philadelphia Antiques Show’s preview on Friday night and opening day on Saturday. Those who choose to attend the show’s preview will have to bid by phone, bid on line, or leave absentee bids; those who skip the preview party and go to Pook & Pook will have to decide whether to go to the show early the next day or wait until the auction is over.

“We tried in every way not to schedule a sale on the Philadelphia show weekend, but the weekend before is Good Friday and the Saturday before Easter,” said Deirdre Pook Magarelli. “We need to use the church parking lot next door, and there is a wedding at the church on the first weekend in May.”

For more information, contact Pook & Pook at (610) 269-4040; Web site (

China trade oil on canvas portrait of the American ship Southerner, circa 1835, captained by Hall J. Tibbits, probably off Whampoa anchorage, 20" x 25¼", $12,000 (est. $2000/4000). Built in New York in 1834, it was Tibbits’s favorite ship and was in service until 1851. The name of the ship is on the flag. According to historian W.Z. Gardner, in 1840 its mutinous crew seized the ship off the west coast of South America near Chile, put Tibbits ashore on an island, and took the ship back to New York, saying the captain was lost at sea. Tibbits returned home four years later.

Pair of Chinese export porcelain plates with landscapes in sepia, 9" diameter, $4182 (est. $300/500) to an on-line bidder.

Early 19th-century New York stoneware crock, each side with an incised and cobalt-decorated bird perched on a leafy branch, 12½" high, $10,200.

New York gumwood gate-leg table, circa 1730, with a single drawer, bold baluster turnings, and old Spanish brown surface, 28¾" x 55¾" x 44¼" open, $19,200 to a phone bidder. Tibbits collection.


An on-line bidder and a phone bidder battled for this Chinese embroidered yellow silk robe with matching boots. The lot sold on line for $17,220 (est. $1000/2000).

Road to Emmaus, a 25" x 30" oil on canvas winter landscape by Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956), signed lower right, $21,600 (est. $8000/12,000) to collectors in the room.

Seth Thomas No. 11 office calendar clock, circa 1880, the double dial with an eight-day movement in a 69" high carved walnut case, $20,400 (est. $4000/8000) to a phone bidder.

Staffordshire pottery figural group, “Bull-Beating” and “Now Captain Ladd,” 10¾" high x 14" wide, $9000 (est. $800/1200) to a phone bidder, underbid by a private collector in the room.

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

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