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Annual Thanksgiving Holiday Auction

David Hewett | November 30th, 2013

The ornate Art Nouveau enameled gold pin, set with 2.9 carats of European-cut diamonds and seed pearls, brought $15,400.

Pictured are three separate lots of jewelry. The Art Deco platinum brooch set with pointed rubies and diamonds, plus other diamonds, in a filigree setting sold for $1925. The Art Deco diamond and natural ruby ring by Tiffany sold for $14,850. (Aren’t all rubies natural? Read the story to find out.) The 7" long platinum Art Deco bracelet by Tiffany, set with rubies and diamonds, was accompanied by an appraisal sheet and sold for $10,175 to a bidder in the far back of the room.

This mahogany chest holds 185 pieces of silver flatware in the King George pattern by Gorham, weighing just over 288 troy ounces; the set sold for $13,200. The sale also had another full set of sterling flatware in an oak case (not shown); the 161 pieces in the Richelieu pattern by Tiffany weighed 231 troy ounces and brought $12,650.

The auction’s highest-priced piece of furniture was this 86" high x 42" wide English Queen Anne secretary in burl walnut with a double-bonnet top. There are mirrors on the exterior of both doors and compartments for all sorts of records in the interior. A phone bidder took it at $13,750.

These portraits on poplar panels sat up on shelf in the gallery, and we didn’t remember to take them down to measure them. He holds a Rochester, New York, paper dated 1834. They went at $3850 to a dealer couple from western Massachusetts who are frequent buyers at Smith’s and took around 15 lots at this sale.

This tall clock’s painted dial left no doubt about who made it and the brass works: Nathaniel Munroe of Concord, Massachusetts, who worked with brothers Daniel and William, the latter a cabinetmaker. The Roxbury, Massachusetts, mahogany case is 7'10" high, and the clock sold for $3300.

In the last ten years, other auction houses, such as Skinner, Northeast Auctions, and the New York City firms, have sold similar tall clocks by this maker for prices up to $54,000. Bill Smith spoke about that fact in an interview in the week following the sale. He noted that quite frequently some very good buys can be made at the smaller regional auction houses, such as his, for the buyer who does her research.

This 26" x 32" oil on canvas by Harry Neyland (1877-1958) depicts Fishermen’s Houses Cuttyhunk. Cuttyhunk Island is the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands between Buzzards Bay and the Vineyard Sound of Massachusetts. It brought $11,000. A second Neyland painting (not shown), Stinkpoint, also a place on Cuttyhunk, sold for $4950.

This porcelain table is an 1890-1900 German product with a 12" diameter plaque at the center of the 30" diameter top, surrounded by 11 other porcelain plaques, and there are three full-bodied cherubs at the junction of leg and center shaft. A phone bidder took it at $4950.

William A. Smith, Inc., Plainfield, New Hampshire

Thanksgiving came late in 2013. The last Thursday in November didn’t roll around until the 28th, leaving the 30th the only Saturday that Plainfield, New Hampshire, auctioneer Bill Smith had available for his big annual Thanksgiving sale.

Given his druthers, it’s probable that Smith would have preferred to hold the event a week earlier. He had two more major specialty auctions scheduled on the two weekends after the Thanksgiving sale. That meant he and the staff would have to really hustle to break down the galleries, get all the paperwork done, and go right back into full-tilt auction mode for the following sales.

Bill Smith, fellow auctioneer Ken Labnon, and gallery manager Leon Rogers are up to the challenges, though. Ask any of them where the goods come from, and they’ll reel off as diverse a list of states and estates as could be found in any of the larger city auction houses.

Plainfield is no city, and it hasn’t much of a downtown. In fact, if you’re in a car and blink when you hit the southern edge of Plainfield, you may open your eyes to find you’ve left it.

Over the years, Smith and Labnon have built up a mighty impressive list of consignors from a widely divergent number of sources. Besides the main office in Plainfield, the Smith auction company has offices in Greenwich, Connecticut; Sarasota, Florida; and Phoenix, Arizona. All of the locations appeared to have contributed items for this sale.

Smith’s Thanksgiving sale drew a standing-room-only crowd on Saturday morning—so many in fact that the rate of sale was considerably slowed from the usual 70 to 75 lots per hour, and occasionally higher, to around 50. The auction featured the usual mix of some decent New England furniture, plus English and Continental pieces, very impressive jewelry offerings, gold coins, and a hefty number of silver lots, including two large sets of sterling flatware, one by Gorham and one by Tiffany.

There were early portraits on canvas and two very good genre paintings, one an Atlantic shore community scene by Harry Neyland and the other an Orientalist work by Frank Waller. There were ceramic offerings too, some English, some American, others Continental, and an example in a form not usually associated with that material. That was a German-made porcelain center table with a 30" diameter top, supported by a center column above a three-legged base, all of which were painted with various scenes from nature and imagination; it sold for $4950 (including buyer’s premium).

There was even one automobile in the sale, a fully restored 1935 Buick Super 8 sedan—not one of the 90 Series
recognized as classic by the Classic Car Club of America, but looking darn good in a two-tone paint job and with dual fender-mounted spare tires. That vehicle had started faithfully all week before the sale, Smith told potential bidders, but it refused to fire on that cold Saturday morning. Nonetheless, a phone bidder took it for $12,100, under its appraised value.

Smith takes left bids and phone bids, but he will not touch Internet bids. “They don’t always pay their bills,” Smith noted with a wry smile that hinted he spoke from experience.

As for supplying the names of buyers, forget it. The place was so packed, and the sightlines fairly difficult, that all we can supply are the prices we recorded. There were dealers whom we recognized in the audience, but they were way outnumbered by retail bidders. And Smith’s does not post prices-realized lists.

The jewelry offerings attracted a substantial number of bidders. If there’s a better time to be offering jewelry at auction than the period after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, we don’t know of it, though a pre-Valentine’s Day sale might be a close competitor.

An Art Deco period diamond and natural (non heat enhanced) Burmese ruby ring in a platinum setting was chased by floor and phone bidders alike until it finally sold to a phone bidder for $14,850. Some sources indicate that 99% of the rubies encountered in today’s jewelry trade have been heat enhanced to improve color and clarity. An Art Nouveau enameled gold pin set with 2.9 carats of European-cut diamonds and seed pearls went to either a left or a phone bid for $15,400.

A 19th-century 20" x 30" oil on canvas painting depicting men on camels and buildings with Arabic form and construction, its vanishing point well off in the sandy desert, was signed by Frank Waller (1842-1923), an American artist and architect acclaimed for his Egyptian and Oriental works, and sold for $13,200. Fishermen’s Houses Cuttyhunk, a 26" x 32" oil by Harry Neyland (1877-1958), known for his coastal and maritime works, brought $11,000.

In the furniture line, there were some decent buys made by those looking for brown furniture. A pretty good cherry Chippendale chest-on-chest with neat carving details brought $11,000. A two-drawer octagonal Federal worktable with sewing bag and details often credited to Boston’s Seymour workshop sold for $3300. A grain-painted cupboard with two blind doors over nine drawers, attributed to the Shakers at the Enfield, New Hampshire, colony and sold by Smith’s some 30 to 40 years ago for $10,000, brought $3300 this time around. A Federal cherry and tiger maple one-drawer light stand with inlaid game board top and wildly scalloped skirt, said to have a Vermont origin and from a Sarasota, Florida, estate, also reached $3300.

Bidders eagerly chased their preferences throughout the time we spent in Plainfield. There were blue-green lap-joined covered pantry boxes with bail handles for the country Americana collectors ($605) and 12-gauge side-by-side shotguns with extensive engraving and bearing the name of George Gibbs, a British gunmaking firm in business since 1830 ($2750).

Other bidders chased a lot comprising five Peanuts sketches by Charles Schulz (1922-2000), all with tennis as the subject. They had been given by Schulz to a neighbor and friend who was a tennis player. Schulz’s cartoons continue to be much in demand, and the quintet brought $5500.

We spoke with Bill Smith in the brief period between his next two auctions. He had some definite observations about the role of the small auction house in the future.

“I try to look at other auctioneers who post their prices and compare that to what we’re doing, and I don’t see a big difference. They may sell some more expensive things than we do, but for the general antiques, there’s not a huge difference in what a lot of it brings.”

About all on-line sales: “If you’re selling all great stuff, and it’s all going to be covered by the phones and the Internet, that’s fine, but what happens if half of it is great and half of it is ho-hum, and nobody interested is sitting in the room? That’s when you need bodies in the seats.”

“There was a Northwest Coast painted panel at the end of the sale. I didn’t realize it, but that thing was signed. A guy came in, looks it over, then buys it on the phone for three hundred eighty-five dollars. He tells me the last one he saw sell brought ten grand. It shows there are still great opportunities out there for people.

“If people only knew that if they got off their butts and got out there and started searching again, there’s money to be made.”

“There was a little painting at the end of the sale, a nineteenth-century American school still life, a little bird’s nest. It was dated 1878 or something like that and had an initial. Two people got on that and pushed it. It opened for fifty bucks and brought twenty-five hundred.

“That’s interesting. We put it on our Web site with signature illegible. Two people found it. They knew we weren’t going to post the price on any Internet art-price site, so now it’s intriguing to them. They’ve discovered it.”

 “I still think that as sellers of antiques, we have to try to keep intrigue involved, the mystique of undiscovered treasures at auction. If we spell it all out on the Internet for them, there’s no more mystique.”

We’ll try to include enough photos to illustrate something of the flavor of this mixed-offering sale. For more information, contact Smith’s at (603) 675-2549; Web site (

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

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