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John Alexander Ltd. Empties Warehouse

Lita Solis-Cohen | September 7th, 2013


This English metal-mounted and carved mahogany display cabinet by George Washington Jack for Morris & Co., circa 1890, stamped “Morris & Co., 449 Oxford St. W. 1783,” sold for $4600 (est. $10,000/15,000). Levitties said he thought it was worth $40,000 at the top of the market.


Pair of Danish teak and leather “Elizabeth” armchairs by Ib Kofod-Larsen, circa 1956, unmarked, each with a curved backrest with outset armrests above seat, loose cushion, and round tapering legs joined by a stretcher, 28" x 30½" x 28", $6900 (est. $3000/5000).


This copper- and pewter-inlaid mahogany vitrine cabinet with glass doors, Glasgow school, circa 1900, 82" x 57" x 19½", sold for $4025 (est. $800/1200).


Lighting is always in demand. This 30½" English Arts and Crafts brass and copper counterbalanced two-light hanging fixture, W.A.S. Benson, circa 1900, sold for $3737.50 (est. $700/900). Not shown, a 17" x 6½" diameter English Arts and Crafts hanging lamp with a yellow and white spiral twist glass shade sold for $2645 (est. $300/400).


English Aesthetic Movement walnut library table, Morris and Co., circa 1878, unmarked, the overhanging top with ribbed ends, the turned legs with casters and joined by a faceted stretcher, 29" x 73" x 35¼", $7475 (est. $1000/2000). “It was a good deal, less than I paid for it,” said Levitties after the sale. An example of this table, in oak, was used in furnishing William Morris’s library at Kelmscott Manor, circa 1870.


There were a few surprising prices. This unmarked English ebonized oak side table by Eric Gomme, circa 1900, with a short drawer and shelves, 22¼" x 21" x 21", illustrated in The Glasgow Style (1979) by Gerald and Celia Larner, plate 116, where it was called a late Glasgow style library table, sold for $4600 (est. $400/600.) “A French collector really wanted it and was the underbidder,” said Muffie Cunningham of Stair Galleries, who cataloged the sale.

Stair Galleries, Hudson, New York

Photos courtesy Stair Galleries

John Alexander Levitties’s business evolved. He began as an antiques dealer in the 1990’s, moved on to become a designer and art dealer, and now he is an interior designer, installing whole houses, not just a stand at an antiques show.

When he opened his antiques shop in a converted stone post office in the Chestnut Hill part of Philadelphia in 1996, his specialty was English Arts and Crafts, Reformed Gothic, and Aesthetic Movement furniture made from 1860 to 1920, plus some handmade 20th-century British furniture. These furnishings, inspired by tastemaker and reformer William Morris, were designed and made by the next two generations of Cotswold and Scottish craftsmen. Levitties loved this furniture when he studied art history in college, and he likes the accessories and lighting of the period.

Shelter magazines called the John Alexander Ltd. gallery “a small personal museum.” Levitties has good taste and developed a following. His popular stands at Sanford Smith’s annual Modernism show, the Winter Antiques Show, the Philadelphia Antiques Show, and the Haughtons’ International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show got good press. He kept a large and diverse inventory in warehouses in Chestnut Hill and in the U.K., where his contacts covered sales between his trips abroad.

In 2010, when the antiques market had changed, Levitties closed his shop in Chestnut Hill, sold the building, and with Michael Gruber opened JAGR Projects, offering all facets of interior design along with early British modern design. The JAGR offices filled a suite in the commercial space at The Rittenhouse, a hotel and condominium on fashionable Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, where JAGR Projects held art and photography exhibitions and showed a line of bespoke furniture.

When The Rittenhouse was sold recently, JAGR lost its lease, and Levitties moved his business back to Chestnut Hill. He hired three young designers, because he is swamped with design projects, and renamed the business JAGR: Collections. He no longer needs an Arts and Crafts inventory, so he sent the warehoused Arts and Crafts furniture and accessories—about 1000 lots in all—to Colin Stair of Stair Galleries, Hudson, New York, for two auctions, one in September and another in November.

“I know I will get ten cents on the dollar, but I don’t want to pay rent in order to keep material I am not selling,” said Levitties before the first sale on September 7. “When I first went into business, I thought I needed to stock all price points, but as time went on I learned that only the best sells quickly. Some good things are left for the sale, but much of it is middle-market, and it will be bought by people furnishing. It is good, serviceable furniture, and some of it quite modern in design,” he said. “This inventory enabled me to do business for two decades. It served me well, but I no longer need it.”

Levitties said he is using more contemporary craft in his design work, along with antiques of all periods. “I buy Mira Nakashima and other contemporary works, and at the Winter Show last year I brought along clients and bought furniture from four different dealers. I liked being a visitor, not a vendor,” he said.

The September 7 sale at Stair was widely advertised and well attended by the trade and private buyers. Some English trade competed in the room and on line via Artfact; on-line bidders bought 25% of the lots that sold. The salesroom was packed, with many watching the sale on their iPads. There was no printed catalog (the illustrated, annotated catalog was posted on line), but lists without illustrations were available in the salesroom.

The two-week preview exhibition looked quite modern with 17 colorful abstract pastels from 1981 by Gene Davis (1920-1985), consigned by Jan Cowles, and a portfolio of framed color photographs by Mark Havens, a young Philadelphia artist, part of the JAGR: Collections.

There were a few strong prices and many bargains for furniture in ready-to-use condition. An English oak gun cabinet by Ernest Gimson, circa 1905, sold for $16,100 (including buyer’s premium) to a private buyer; Levitties said it is worth three times that much. One decorator bought nearly 40 lots.

A group of large color photographs by Mark Havens—all framed—from an exhibition at JAGR Projects sold well. With no auction record, they were estimated at $1000/1500 for single prints or $1000/1500 for a lot of four smaller ones, and they sold for prices ranging from $1495 to $2990. A pair of JAGR Projects Sebastien Fireside chairs with tall backs, padded arms, bowfront seats, and bulbous legs (est. $800/1200) sold for $2760, while a pair of English Arts and Crafts leather tall-back chairs by Marsh, Jones and Cribb, circa 1890, fetched $1955, demonstrating what’s in vogue at the moment.

The sale, including some additions to the John Alexander Ltd. consignment, brought a total of $236,917.50. Of that, $220,800 was from the John Alexander Levitties consignment. It seemed to be the right time to buy furniture if you needed it.

For more information, contact Stair Galleries at (518) 751-1000; Web site (www.stairgalleries.com).

English oak octagonal-top table, Cotswold school, circa 1935, with overhanging top and faceted legs, 28½" x 57½" x 57½", $2645 (est. $600/800).

This English iron-mounted oak gun cabinet by Ernest Gimson, circa 1905, 7' x  54¼" x 22", sold for $16,100 (est. $5000/7000) to a private buyer.


Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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