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Julia Gets $4.7 Million in Four Days

Mark Sisco | February 4th, 2014

Thirteenth-century reliquary chest or chasse with six enameled figures, $183,675.

Some selections from the archive of paper, photographs, and militaria from Luis Emilio, captain of the 54th Regiment, Company E, Civil War, divided into two lots that sold for $59,250 and $148,125.

Pair of 19th-century Chinese cloisonné censers, 34" high, with lotus flower relief decorations and standing cranes, $248,850.

This enormous 26½" diameter North American Woodlands Indian burl bowl proved to be considerably more valuable than was expected. Clearly hand carved, with an inserted plug at the base, it was estimated at $2500/4500, but bidders just wouldn’t quit until it hit $21,330.

This Chinese scroll painting, 102" long, signed in Chinese characters “Xu Beihong,” and thereby attributed to him, sold for $154,050.

This small blue and white Qianlong saucer in the Ming style, marked, of the 1735-96 period, was estimated at $400/600 and sold for $18,960.

One of the oldest items in the sale was this Celtic Montefortino-type helmet, dating 300 B.C.–A.D. 100. It was named for the Montefortino region of Italy, where a similar knob-topped helmet was recovered from a Celtic burial site. It sold for $11,542.50 (est. $2500/4500).

Eighteenth-century Chinese bamboo brush pot, with detailed carved images of a woman, horse, and attendant heading for a carrying chair in a shady mountain landscape, sold for $35,550 (est. $800/1200).

James D. Julia, Inc., Fairfield, Maine

Photos courtesy James D. Julia

When a collection of Civil War letters and artifacts that sells for nearly $150,000 gets eclipsed by a European religious artifact and that gets eclipsed by a pair of Chinese censers, you know we’re talking about a big sale. James D. Julia’s four-day midwinter sale, February 4-7, hit a total of over $4.7 million in gross sales, led by a few stand-apart lots that broke into six figures.

By far the standout item of the first three days of the sale was a 13th-century gilded copper and polychrome enamel reliquary chest. The front and lid were decorated with six enameled images of saints, in full relief, surrounded by insets of colored round and oval glass and white, turquoise, and medium lapis blue enamel. Secondhand information listed on the Web site suggested that it had been purchased in the 1980s from the Blumka Gallery of New York City, specialists in medieval, Renaissance, and baroque art. Reliquaries are boxes designed to contain the most sacred relics, such as the bones of saints, or in some cases artifacts believed to relate to the life of the Savior himself, such as the Holy Thorn, said to have come from the original crown of thorns, or a splinter of wood from the cross upon which He was crucified. The French term chasse usually refers to a form such as this one, with the box having the architectural features of a church, along with applied frameworks of gilding, copper, or champlevé enamel. From about the 12th to the 14th century, Limoges, France was the most important center of production for such works. Expectations were high on this singular rarity, estimated at $50,000/150,000. The final tally passed the high mark with a sale price of $183,675 (including buyer’s premium).

The most historically significant section of the sale centered on a large archive of the papers, photographs, and militaria of Luis Emilio, Civil War captain of the black 54th Regiment, Company E. It was divided into two lots, the first consisting of numerous letters, maps, medals, insignias, and other artifacts from Emilio’s career. The complete contents are far too numerous to list in their entirety, but some of the highlights from the first lot include five personal diaries covering Emilio’s life as a student in 1861 and running through 1866, past his mustering out on March 24, 1865. Also included were 170 wartime letters and about 375 postwar letters, many of which refer to the operations of the 54th, including some letters from the black enlisted men under his command. There were also seven hand-drawn maps showing the 54th’s theaters of operation in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. In all, the entire first section of the collection sold just under the high-end estimate for $59,250.

The second set consisted of the contents of a dome-top document box that was made for Emilio’s mother in Malaga, Spain, filled with Emilio family letters, numerous photographs of Emilio, his family, and children, an invitation and menu for an 1867 private dinner in honor of Emilio’s service by his fellow officers of the 54th Massachusetts, and much more. The main attraction was a total of about 128 four-page letters describing his service from the formation of the 23rd Massachusetts to his commission into the 54th, virtually all of them clearly written, giving lucid accounts of his military life and the accomplishments of those in his command.

Often the words are poignant and touching, as when he wrote to his mother, “I have to break to you the news that feeling it to be duty to my country and to posterity have enlisted in the Grand Army…My dear momma you do not a greater sacrifice than thousands of American mothers are doing cheerfully and you have the consolation that I am in one of the finest Companies in the services where we are all acquainted and friends. Do not regret the step that I have taken with a full perception of all consequences…if I should fall, would you not recall my memory with pride?” From New Bern, North Carolina, in August of 1862, he wrote, “I may never again see you…Sometimes when by myself the thought comes to me that never again I may witness a mother’s love, a father’s affection and brother and sisters tender greetings. Never feel the quiet peaceful influences of home but now in the beginning of early manhood be cut off, and my bones lay unburied in a strange land, no one to mourn or say a kind word; or return a maimed, crippled wreck, a shadow of what I was, to be a burden in the community…but enough of this…trust in providence.” When the bidding ended on this one, it easily outstripped the first lot, finishing at $148,125.

As we’ve reported often in the past, it was the Orientalia that provided the best bidding fireworks. Last year at Julia’s, just before I purchased a handful of Chinese scroll paintings, all with artist attributions, for what I thought was very little money, director of the Asian arts division Jim Callahan explained to me that the meaning of the phrases “attributed to” or “in the manner of” when applied to Asian artworks doesn’t necessarily mean the same as it does for western works. Chinese artists frequently paint in a style very close to that of their teacher or other influential artists, signing their name to it often as more of an homage than a spurious imitation. Thus an airtight attribution is often virtually impossible to attain, even for signed works. So up came a 102" long hand scroll of a herd of horses at the edge of a meadow pond, attributed to and apparently signed by Xu Beihong (1895-1953) and dated “summer of guiwei year” in Chinese characters. One of Xu Beihong’s best-known works is a painting titled Put Down Your Whip, which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2007 for $9.2 million, then a record for a Chinese painting. This scroll was estimated at a mere $1200/1800. Someone wound up with it for $154,050. Apparently the bidder had solid confidence in the attribution or at least was willing to take a major chance on it.

Here’s the one that left everything else in the dust. A pair of large 34" tall 19th-century cloisonné censers featured intricately detailed gilt dragons, a reticulated lid, and finial filled with lotus flower and stems in relief. Each was mounted on a trio of red-head and black and white feathered cranes. They had a $6500/7500 estimate, and who would have guessed that they’d finish up just shy of a quarter million at a staggering $248,850?

For more information, visit Julia’s Web site ( or call (207) 453-7125.

This complete suit of 17th- or 18th-century Japanese do-maru or body-wrapping parade armor, as illustrated in The Collector’s Value Guide to Oriental Decorative Arts by Sandra Andacht, had been on loan to the Nassau County Museum of Art since 1988 before returning to private hands. It was estimated at $2000/3000 and sold for $11,850. Sisco photo.

This 18th-century 13" high bronze statue of the bodhisattva goddess of mercy and compassion Quan Yin (Guanyin), inlaid with silver decorations of bamboo and clouds, signed “Shih So,” was estimated at a microscopic $400/600 and finished up at $37,920.

This 19th-century Chinese display cabinet in intricately carved rosewood with brass hardware and black lacquer interior shelves made the $500/700 estimate look silly when it closed for $8887.50.

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

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