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Federalist Papers Top Lot at Mebane

Pete Prunkl | December 6th, 2013

The sale’s top lot was displayed in a glass case at the front of the gallery. Although the so-called Federalist Papers were published in two volumes, this lot consisted of two copies of volume one of the 1788 document. One volume was complete, while the other lacked the first six pages, including the frontispiece, title page, and page 227. Part of the spine on the first book was missing, while there is only a partial spine on the second book. With inscriptions for Brooklyn, New York, and Halifax, North Carolina, the two volumes sold to the representative of a rare book dealer for $40,700.

This view of Mt. McKinley, Alaska, by Sydney Mortimer Laurence (1865-1940), measures 20" x 15" and is signed lower right. Raleigh attorney Robert Rosenthal bought the painting for $33,000.

Shown are the scalloped-rim vegetable bowl, cups, and saucers of a 61-piece set of Meissen dishes in the Purple Indian pattern. From the Primrose estate, the entire set of dinnerware was purchased by a phone bidder for $1650. Prunkl photo.

Bob Whitfield of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, examined practically every pocket watch in the sale. This was the only one he bought: a Howard 18k gold, size 16, in a double case with its original chain, original mahogany factory box, and original label. When new, the circa 1912 watch sold for $170. Whitfield paid $2750 for the Howard and its accessories.

Four oil on board paintings by California artist Jack Wisby (1869/70-1940) were consigned by a woman whose grandmother purchased them at the gallery that represented Wisby. Half Moon Lake & Dick’s Peak, Lake Tahoe was the largest (22½" x 26½") and priciest of the four. It sold for $2200 to a phone bidder, who purchased all four Wisbys.

The American War from 1775 to 1783 with Plans by Charles Smith was printed by C. Smith Bookseller and Stationer, New York City, in 1797. Measuring 8½" x 5¼" this copy sold for $6050 to the winner of the Federalist Papers.

Mebane Antique Auction Gallery, Mebane, North Carolina

Photos courtesy Mebane

Jon Lambert of Mebane Antique Auction Gallery put one more toe into the auction mainstream on December 6, 2013. He distributed a printed catalog with lot numbers, descriptions, and condition reports at his annual Americana and Continental sale. Gone were separate printed lists, organized by category, with each category coming to the auction block at a specific time.

The new catalog follows other changes made in 2012—the addition of a buyer’s premium, television monitors, and more phones. Lambert is keeping three somewhat non-mainstream policies. Mebane has no Internet bidding, absentee bidders must first examine the object in person, and everything is sold without reserve. The sell-through rate here is 100%, and for most lots, bidding opponents are within sight of each other. Lambert cleverly blends the up-to-date with the dated and produces some of the most energetic, well-attended, and endlessly surprising sales in North Carolina.

The top lot in the December sale typifies Lambert’s genius at work. Two weeks before his Americana sale, two copies of volume one of the Federalist Papers were consigned. What could be more American than essays on the defense of the new American Constitution written by some of our Founding Fathers? But Lambert faced a marketing dilemma. Although he thrives on announcing non-advertised recent finds to his faithful followers on the day of the sale, the Federalist Papers were a different matter. Lambert and his staff scrambled to alert the rare book community about this find. Because M.A.D.’s December issue was in the mail, the Federalist Papers were announced on the Maine Antique Digest Web site. A news release was also broadcast.

It worked. A representative from a rare book dealer traveled to Mebane to examine the papers. She must have liked what she saw because she bid on the papers by standing up in the back of the gallery with her bidding number held high. Every phone in the house was active, and one by one they withered. The dealer won the lot with a bid of $40,700 (includes buyer’s premium).

The representative reprised her Federalist win a few lots later with the 1797 book The American War from 1775 to 1783 with Plans by Charles Smith. At the back of the book are three additional pages with handwritten notes concerning events in 1775, 1776, and 1777. She bought American War for $6050.

Only one other lot was in the Federalist Papers’ league, a signed oil on canvas of Mt. McKinley, Alaska, by that state’s most prominent painter, Sydney Mortimer Laurence (1865-1940). After front-row regular Nathan Sapp opened the bidding at $10,000, nine phone bidders and floor bidder Robert Rosenthal joined the race. Rosenthal’s responses were executed without a second’s hesitation, and he triumphed at $33,000.

The descendents of Raleigh, North Carolina, insurance executive William S. Primrose (1848-1909) consigned two significant lots. The first was a 60-piece set of Gorham sterling silver flatware in the Fontainebleau pattern. The set was presented to Primrose for his leadership in establishing the 1884 North Carolina State Exposition. His initials were engraved on the back of each silver piece, and a commemorative plaque was affixed to the top of the silver chest. The Primrose descendants also consigned 61 pieces of Meissen Purple Indian dinnerware produced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The gold-rimmed china set included a two-handled twin-spout gravy boat and serving bowls; all pieces showed minor wear. A phone bidder won the silver set for $4400; an on-site bidder took the china for $1650.

The seven diamond rings in the sale attracted a crowd who tried on each one in turn. Bidding from the floor, Dwayne and Cathy Pierce of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, took home the top ring—an Art Deco platinum, diamond, and sapphire ring, size 5½. The old European-cut central diamond was 1.05 carats and flanked by half-moon intense blue sapphires. Three straight diamond baguettes framed the sapphires to complete the Art Deco effect. The couple paid $3740 for ring. “We take off work to come to this sale every year,” said Dwayne Pierce. 

Three Chinese lots deserve mention. Topping the short list was a pair of ancient scrolls believed to be from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Bidding opened at $1000, and it seemed to take forever before anyone offered a competitive bid. Two phone bidders battled it out before one prevailed at $4070.

The opening bid was also $1000 for a 39" Chinese carved ivory “Happiness Temple.” And again the winning bidder was on the phone. The temple consisted of three graduated pagodas on a base with a window opening showing a boy and girl riding a tiger through a forest. The window on the opposite side had birds, a man reading a scroll, an ox, and a goddess. Two 11½" arms extended from the base. A seated Buddha was in one pagoda and a female figure holding a staff in the other. Losses included a number of bells, dragon heads, roof arches, and latticework. The winning number was $3850.

A small (2¼") light green jade carving of a seated boy with a water lily was the third top Chinese lot. “This is the most important piece of jade in the sale,” said Lambert. Despite interest during preview, bidding was all on the phone. It brought $1870.

One more comment needs to be made about the new catalog. It lacked photographs and presale estimates. The absence of estimates tied in nicely with Lambert’s insistence on no reserves. He typically asks for a ridiculously high opening bid, and when no one responds he works down to a more reasonable number. He always finds a starting bid. When he asks for $100,000, he gets an opening of $1000. When he asks for $1000, he gets $100. Lambert doesn’t constrain himself by having to start at one-half the low estimate and then pass lots that don’t meet that artificial standard. He has no low estimate. It all works together to produce a very lively sale.

For more information, visit the newly designed Web site, with on-line catalog (with photos), at ( or call (919) 563-2424.

Auctioneer Jon Lambert picked this Ithaca Calendar Clock Co. “Box Skeleton” clock at a former plantation home in Mississippi. Patented in 1869, the 20½" x 11" x 7½" cased clock has its original glass, movement, and paper day rollers. The clock opened at $1000 and sold to a phone bidder for $9900.

Two phone bidders fought over two ancient Chinese scrolls (one shown here) that included Buddhist stories. The winner paid $4070 for the pair.

These 60 pieces of Gorham sterling silver flatware in the Fontainebleau pattern included sugar spoons, ladle, butter spreader, and sterling mother-of-pearl handle knives and were all in a mahogany case. Detail shows butter spreader and ladle. A phone bidder paid $4400 for the set, which had been presented to Raleigh, North Carolina, insurance executive William S. Primrose in 1884.

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

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