A 1901 Gustav Stickley library table, a variation of model no. 454, with original leather top, inverted tapered legs, through-tenon construction, two drawers with original iron hardware, a central blind drawer, and original finish and tacks, brought $390,400.
John Toomey Gallery displayed the 1901 Gustav Stickley library table front and center to show off its impressive proportions. It was not a record price for Stickley. Gustav Stickley's own sideboard sold at Christie's in 1988 to Barbra Streisand for a 20th-century American furniture record of $363,000. In 1999 Streisand put the sideboard back up for sale at Christie's where Rudy Ciccarello bought it for $596,500, a new world record for Gustav Stickley furniture. An early round leather-topped table with what collectors call "elephant legs" because they're bigger at the bottom sold for $167,750 at Duane Merrill's 1999 sale of the Allen estate. Edwards photo.
The footstool, model no. 728, brought $20,740 from Beth Cathers.
The living room at La Hacienda as it was furnished circa 1904. The Morris chair, Stickley model no. 2342, stood in the same spot for more than 100 years. It was lot four in the Treadway-Toomey sale, where it brought $10,370.
A watercolor painted by Irene Jerome Hood in 1902 shows the original dark gray-green stain on the model no. 967 sideboard that brought $35,380. It sat beneath a Caproni plaster frieze against the yellow Morris and Company wallpaper, which still hangs on the walls of La Hacienda.
A monumental (21" high x 12" wide) green Teco umbrella stand, #100A, designed by W.D. Gates, brought $19,520.
The Vancroft dinner gong brought $15,600 in 2007 at a Craftsman Auctions sale. The Jerome dinner gong brought $34,160 at the 2012 Treadway-Toomey sale.
The drawer bottoms of a "Gothic-influenced" server showed evidence of an intense green stain. It brought $24,400.
A 1902 Gustav Stickley hall clock, model no. 3, with beveled top over an original brass and copper face with sunburst patterns at the corners over a single door with glass pane and original hardware, original pendulum and weights, in a fine original finish and with a red decal, brought $103,700. An L. & J.G. Stickley tall-case clock that was part of Gustav Stickley's family collection sold at Christie's in December 1988 for $71,500.
A Lurelle Guild cocktail shaker, model no. 5840, by International Silver Company, circa 1934, impressed "Lurelle Guild" and "International Giftware 5840" and stamped "Lacquered," an uncommon version with original red lacquered finish, brought $48,800.
A 1902 Gustav Stickley chalet desk with a paneled drop-front form supported by slab sides, with key-and-tenon construction, a chamfered backboard, complete interior with original leather writing surface, original woven basket, and original green finish with a red decal, brought $51,850.
A Poul Henningsen large pendant hanging light by Louis Poulsen, Denmark, 1920's, model 8/6, brought $12,200.
Treadway-Toomey Galleries, Oak Park, Illinois
by Robert Edwards
Photos courtesy Treadway-Toomey
In the auction catalog preface, collector Thomas Maher likened the May 20 John L. Jerome auction at the John Toomey Gallery in Oak Park, Illinois, to five earlier auctions that stand out as benchmarks in the development of the Gustav Stickley market: the January 1979 Richard Oliver sale of a York, Maine, summer house; the May 1982 Hutchens and Caldwell sale of the estate of Leopold Stickley's wife, Louise; the December 1988 Christie's sale of the collection of Peter Wiles (Gustav Stickley's grandson); the October 1999 Duane Merrill & Company sale of the contents of Allenwood in Vermont; and the March 2007 Craftsman Auctions sale of the contents of Vancroft, a Wellsburg, West Virginia, estate.
John L. Jerome (1854-1903) owned the Overland Cotton Mill Company and was partner in the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company until John D. Rockefeller Jr. and George Gould wrested control from the original partners in 1903. By the end of that year, three of the original partners were dead, including Jerome.
A handsome hardcover limited-edition catalog describes Jerome's La Hacienda as a mostly wooden compound of houses designed by Denver architect Frederick Sterner and completed in 1902. La Hacienda stands on a hill overlooking the Platte River in Buffalo Park, Colorado, surrounded by acres of forest. As soon as the residence was completed, John Jerome and his wife, Lucy, set about furnishing it.
They put up cheerful William Morris wallpapers, brought in part of their collection of Native American artifacts from the Pacific Northwest, and ordered crates and crates of Gustav Stickley furnishings from the Auburn, New York, retailer G.W. Richardson. Those crates included drugget rugs, Caproni plaster reproductions of antique Italian sculpture, and oak furniture, much of which was finished with green stain.
Jerome and his family formed the Buffalo Park Association to protect the acreage and residence. Sadly, he had only one year to partake of the many pleasures stipulated in the Buffalo Park Association charter, such as "Star-Gazing," "Hunting the Snark," "Building castles in Spain," "Making mud Pies," "Hunting Indians, bears, and chipmunks," and "Making love." His extended family, however, enjoyed La Hacienda for more than a century, all the while maintaining the property exactly as it was when John and Lucy first decorated it.
Now the very reason the resort was createdthe magnificent surrounding wildernesshas threatened its existence. Wildfires have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres all around the vulnerable buildings on the property, causing Jerome's great-grandchildren Richard, James, and Georgina Hart to make the decision to preserve the furnishings by dispersing them at auction.
Treadway-Toomey Galleries did not need to do the kind of hyped-up promotion typical of the New York City auction houses because the market for high-end American Arts and Crafts has never been deep. Since the 1970's, there have not been more than five or six major players at any one time; their names have changed over the decades except for one constant, dealer Beth Cathers.
As long as Cathers and just one other big spender know about a sale like this, excitement is bound to ensue. Richard Oliver remembers that he ran just one line of text to advertise his 1979 auction, but that was all it took to get Cathers, the legendary dealer Don Magner, and the author (always the bridesmaid) on the road to Maine during a major blizzard.
The many parallels between the Oliver sale and the Jerome sale are instructive to review: condition was a major factor in the desirability of the lots in both sales, as was fashion in collecting Stickley. The furnishings in the Oliver sale were in nearly pristine condition, including the drugget rugs, which rarely survive and weren't a part of the Jerome sale. The Oliver furniture was mostly ebonized, and much of it was based on Harvey Ellis designs. In the 1970's and 1980's, collectors vied aggressively for Ellis designs, most especially for pieces with metal inlay.
As I did then, I prefer Stickley's ponderous early designs with their chunky wooden knobs and overscaled proportions because they seem to me to represent an undiluted materialization of his core beliefs. I think the easier Ellis aesthetic, which is more about beauty than ideals, somewhat pandered to existing consumer taste. At the Oliver sale, I was rewarded with a Noah's ark-size black settle (model no. 173) and a large Craftsman drugget rug; Cathers won an Ellis inlaid desk and chair for $14,750 after a battle with Don Magner. Those were the good old days before the buyer's premium was universal, but even without a premium, M.A.D. claimed that Cathers's bid outstripped her previous record bid for Mission furniture by $12,250. (Cathers had paid $2500.)
Cathers started out on her own, but by the time of the Oliver auction she was buying for Jordan-Volpe Gallery in New York City. She told M.A.D. reporter Lita Solis-Cohen, "Jordan-Volpe must have the best and are willing to overpay today because these prices will seem low tomorrow."
The desk Cathers bought in 1979 is certainly rare and perhaps among the best of Stickley. In 1981 Cathers's then-husband, David, posited that Stickley made inlaid furniture only for display: "These inlaid pieces are very rare today, since, according to Stickley's daughter, Barbara Wiles, the inlaid oak furniture was never produced commercially. A limited number of pieces were made for exhibit to the furniture trade and to display in some retail stores, but the line never caught on, and very few pieces ever sold. According to Mrs. Wiles, these few samples were the only pieces of inlaid furniture made." (From Furniture of the American Arts and Crafts Movement: Stickley and Roycroft Mission Oak by David Cathers, 1981.)
Over the last four decades much more inlaid furniture has been discovered, including several more desks identical to the Oliver desk, suggesting that it was indeed produced commercially. Still, in today's developed market, such desks would fetch many times more than the 1979 price, which converts to about $45,742 in 2012 dollars, especially when rich collectors such as Rudy Ciccarello, who weren't in the market in the 1970's, are bidding.
Sadly, there is no photo documentation to show how the Craftsman furnishings were used in the York, Maine, summer house, unlike the extensive visual record of La Hacienda. Much of the Craftsman furniture in the Jerome house was ordered with green finishes that varied from vivid viridian to brackish raw umber, and while the period photographs of the interiors are black and white, a member of the family made numerous watercolor studies of several rooms, giving modern historians a more accurate idea of how the furniture looked when it was almost new.
A green chalet desk (model no. 505) survived with its original green woven basket, which is now faded to a manila tan color. The back of the desk, long protected from sunlight, shows that the whole piece had once been a translucent chromium-oxide green. Now the exposed parts of the desk are an almost transparent cadmium green made all the more yellow by the oxidization of the oak beneath the stain. The little desk sold for $51,850 (includes buyer's premium), which outdoes the Oliver desk, even without the 22% buyer's premium.
It will probably end up on display in Rudy Ciccarello's Two Red Roses Foundation museum in Florida, where it will serve as an example of the fugitive green stain. I wonder if the eyes of museum visitors will be able to transpose the way the desk looks now into a vision of what it looked like when it was new. Since there are many other examples of the chalet desk around, I think it would be marvelous to see the finish on this one restored to its original bilious color.
Bidders did not think as much of another once-green piece as I did. The rare, early server with details that the catalog defined as "Gothic" brought a relatively modest $24,400. There was barely a trace of green on the outside of the server, but a drawer bottom was covered with a violent emerald green that belies all modern descriptions of drab American Arts and Crafts-style interiors. How gay the Jerome interiors must have been with their sunflower yellow Morris & Company wallpapers and jewel-bright green furniture!
To me, the server is important as a museum piece for reasons other than its color. The subtle Gothic embellishments, the arched drawer fronts, the curious little notches on the legs, the meticulous handmade construction details, and the bowed drawer sides with their finely cut dovetails tell the story of Stickley's development as a designer in a way that later less experimental pieces cannot.
Beth Cathers said she doesn't like the server precisely because of its unresolved style, but "museum quality" isn't always only about aesthetics. The drawers on this serverwhich remind me of delicate Shaker workmanshiphave a connection to the individual craftsman that is lost in furniture with Stickley's later mass-produced joinery. A similar sideboard with different knobs was acquired by Max Palevsky (1924-2010), a benefactor of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and used in the 2004 exhibition The Arts & Crafts Movement in Europe & America, 1880-1920: Design for the Modern World to demonstrate the difference between detailed Stickley designs that required a great deal of handwork and the later plainer standardized designs that did not.
The 2007 Vancroft sale and the 2012 Jerome sale had Stickley dinner gongs. Beth Cathers's partner, Robert Kaplan, underbid the Vancroft gong, losing it to a phone bidder at $15,600. Cathers, with a client on the phone, won the Jerome gong for $34,160. I like these strange objects for what they say about the American version of the simple life, and I suppose in a pinch the copper skillet-shaped gong could be used to serve up a whopping omelet, but I don't understand what about the aesthetics of their design makes these multiples worth so much more than their estimates. The Vancroft gong was estimated at $8500/12,500, and the Jerome gong was more modestly estimated at $4000/6000.
I think there is a cult of Craftsman furnishings based on aesthetic and rarity factorsdeftly articulated by dealers who must market Stickley products at astronomical pricesthat apply only inside a Gustav Stickley bubble that excludes all other Arts and Crafts objects or, indeed, all other decorative arts from any period or any place.
Cathers disagrees, citing prices for French Art Deco furniture that often exceed $1 million. She thinks an international market is in the offing, which will push Stickley prices even higher. She and other experts agree that current prices for Gustav Stickley are chump change to today's art- and antiques-buying billionaires.
Cathers has been right about Gustav Stickley's market potential more often than I have been, but I'm not so sure the rest of the world could ever love and value Stickley the way Americans do. I see her concept as an example of the same kind of United States exceptionalism that woos Americans to pay more for 18th-century objects made in the U.S. than they would for the equivalent made in Great Britain, Europe, or in any other place in the world. We would pay more for a clumsy Bonnin and Morris porcelain sweetmeat dish than we would for the most exquisitely modeled Meissen compote made at the Royal Porcelain Factory in Berlin. We would pay more for a mediocre lumpy green Grueby pot than we would for a sophisticated vase by France's Auguste Delaherche.
Aesthetics and rarity make an odd couple in the world of Stickley. Beth Cathers on the phone with a client won a model no. 728 footstool for $20,740. The pleasing proportions of this design remain the same from one example to the next; the same model with new rush and a "recoated" finish sold for $1440 at a 2010 Treadway-Toomey auction, so evidently desirability is not based on aesthetics alone. Instead, condition must be the determining factor. The Jerome stool is rare because it retained the original rush and the fine original finish, but can that make $19,300 worth of difference?
The Jerome tall-case clock may be unique because no one has seen another example of a model no. 3 with the same bright-finished copper appliqués in the corners of the face. In my opinion, these shiny decorations are interesting, as they change the commonly held idea that most Stickley copper was originally patinated, but they do not represent an improvement of the basic design. The clock sold to phone bidder number 794 for $103,700. So it would seem that aesthetics take a backseat to condition among collectors of Gustav Stickley when it comes to dollars and sense.
The condition of the Jerome furnishings was indeed rare and fine. A wardrobe model no. 624 looked so new that I expected to be able to see sawdust from the Craftsman workshops inside the drawers. It sold for $61,000.
An article in the New York Times begged to differ about condition in a presale review: "Joseph Cunningham, a historian who specializes in Arts and Crafts, said in a recent phone interview that he had not heard of the Jerome trove until the Toomey sale was in progress. Some furniture is sun-bleached, he said, which reduces its value."
Some Jerome pieces were indeed sun-bleached, but it hardly reduced their value. A case in point was an unsigned 1901 Gustav Stickley library table, a variation of model no. 454, with an original leather top, inverted tapered legs, through-tenon construction, two drawers, original iron hardware, a central blind drawer, and original finish and tacks. One hundred eleven years of light certainly altered, if not faded, the color, and the remarkably well-preserved leather was mottled with tiny scratches and dark spots, which only added to the table's presence.
Cathers noted that she had not seen another table with these particular variations in 40 years. She added that she had not been as enthusiastic about the table as Kaplan was until she saw it in Toomey's gallery where she was overwhelmed by its charisma.
Bidding with a cell phone clamped to his ear, Kaplan was willing to pay way more than the $60,000 high estimate, but it wasn't enough, and bidder number 794 prevailed at $390,400. Apparently collector taste in Stickley has evolved over the decades from favoring the refined inlaid, ebonized Ellis designs to appreciating heavy "elephant-legged" designs with iron hardware that Stickley purchased from an outside supplier.
Astonished sale attendees wondered if the price for the table was an auction record for Stickley. It is not. Christie's, which turned down the Jerome collection, has had the record twice for a sideboard. In the 1988 sale of the Peter Wiles/Stickley family collection, Barbra Streisand paid a record $363,000 for the 1903 sideboard used in Gustav Stickley's dining room. Streisand put it up for sale again at Christie's in 1999, when it brought a new and still-standing auction record of $596,500 from Rudy Ciccarello. The rarity factor was undisputed, but condition was not, and Ciccarello sued the auction house. (The suit was dismissed.)
Although reputable auction houses do not reveal the names of phone bidders, it was easy to figure out that Toomey's bidder number 794 was Ciccarello, who bought many of the most expensive lots from the Jerome part of the sale as well as many from the rest of the exhaustive catalog, which took nearly 12 hours to sell. Most of those hours were presided over by auctioneer Jennifur Condon, whose clear, efficient style of calling made the confusing confluence of phone bids, Internet bids, and the few bids from real people in real seats perfectly understandable. According to John Toomey Gallery's Lisanne Dickson, 75% of all lots sold went to Internet bidders.
Lucy Toomey handled bidder number 794's phone line as lot after lot was knocked down to her. I couldn't keep track of them all and suspect he may also have had another bidder number, but in addition to those discussed above, I noted 794 bought a 1902 uncataloged desk in green stain (slightly "sun-faded") for $25,620; a Rookwood landscape tile for $9150; a Teco umbrella stand for $19,520; a Roycroft writing desk for $18,300; a pair of Roycroft copper candlesticks for $2562; a Van Briggle tile for $5490; and a Hartford Faience tile panel for $9760.
In the good old days, when Skinner auctions put together by Marilee Meyer dominated the field, sales often consisted entirely of Arts and Crafts objects and relied on the bidders actually sitting in the auction room. Today, most auctions of Arts and Crafts objects are folded into 20th-century design, which includes Art Deco and mid-century modern. Skinner-now without Meyer-long ago lost out to Sotheby's, Christie's, Rago Arts and Auction Center, and Treadway-Toomey Galleries, all of whose marathon sales could not be successful (to the extent that they are successful) without Internet bidders. Two hundred sixty-six lots of Arts and Crafts were included in Rago Arts' 1114-lot "20th/21st Century Design" auction sold over two days, June 16 and 17. The Toomey sale had 553 Arts and Crafts lots in its 1138-lot "20th Century Art & Design" sale, which it sold in one day.
Most auction reviews cite statistics such as auction totals and percentage of lots sold. I suppose in rare instances those numbers can give an idea of the health of the market, but most sales have some sort of fluke that skews the meaning of such numbers. The inclusion of the Jerome collection in Treadway-Toomey's sale and the inclusion of the $390,400 Gustav Stickley library table in the Jerome collection render statistics meaningless. Prices paid for many of the Jerome pieces have no relevance to the overall market for Gustav Stickley.
The wide-eyed public that applies record prices to its own possessions often fails to realize that if another table identical in every way to the $390,400 Gustav Stickley library table were to come to the market, it would bring a fraction of $390,400, even if Beth Cathers is still buying, because Ciccarello has his example. If another sideboard exactly like Streisand's came up, it would bring far less than $596,500 because Ciccarello's suit was dismissed, and he still owns his record-priced piece. At Rago in February, after $60,000 there were only two bidders on a Rose Valley table, which brought a record $237,500 from Ciccarello. If an identical table in identical condition were to be auctioned, the underbidder could get it for far less because Ciccarello has his example.
For more information, contact Treadway Gallery at (513) 321-6742 or John Toomey Gallery at (708) 383-5234.