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Maine Primitives and Southern History

Mark Sisco | December 7th, 2013

“The finest example of cooperage we have ever seen. As tight as the day it was crafted,” was how Gould’s listing described this blue-gray-painted firkin with a double ring of locking bands on the upper rim, a single ring at the 9" diameter bottom, and square side buttons attaching the bentwood handle. A handwritten message on the bottom read “Stolen/ from/ C. B. Wade/ Athens/ Wade V.G.O.” The construction, the surface, the delicate chamfering of the upper edge, and the cryptic message combined to produce a winner at $3392.50. As of yet, no one knows who C.B. Wade was, but he was probably a merchant from Athens, Maine. Gould photo.

This 18th-century large gentleman’s work bag with thorough floral decorations on either side, from the Martha Genung Stearns collection, hit $3162.50. Gould photo.

To see another version of this classic “Pointing Finger” sign, all you have to do is look at the lower outside corner of a M.A.D. page that falls in the middle of an article. It seems that there are versions of it everywhere, but this one, in carved and painted wood, had to be one of the largest at 51" long. Someone got it for $3335.

Large (33" x 50") Maine hooked rug with a crop of strawberries and a foliate ring on a dark background, $1840.

Gould Auction Company, Gardiner, Maine

On December 7, 2013, on the 72nd anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, in a quavering voice, Tim Gould began his auction in Gardiner, Maine, by giving a heartfelt tribute to American veterans, specifically to Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jonathan Gifford, who died in combat in 2012 while on his fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan. Then after a moment of silent contemplation, the auctioneer took charge.

A collection of 17 death mask sculptures and plaques by Atlanta, Georgia, sculptor Orion Frazee, who is known to have modeled the death mask of Jefferson Davis (not included), consisted of likenesses of prominent 19th-century Atlanta, Georgia, politicians and businessmen. Some of the faces were not identified, but among the known images were those of Henry W. Grady (1850-1889), Robert Toombs (1810-1885), Lemuel Grant (1817-1893), and Richard Peters (1810-1899). All were prominent Atlanta citizens. Henry Grady was a journalist, orator, editor of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper, and lifelong white supremacist who helped reintegrate the South into the Union following the Civil War. Robert Toombs was the first secretary of state of the Confederacy and a Civil War general. Lemuel Grant was a railroad magnate who designed and built Atlanta’s Civil War defense system. And Richard Peters built Atlanta’s first steam-powered factory and is credited with being one of the city’s founders. The other faces remain unidentified, but some careful research should bring forth their identities. Little information is available about the sculptor Orion Frazee (d. 1915), but he is known to have created a bronze bust of Henry Grady, cast by Nicholas Muller’s Sons & Co. of New York. The unique collection sold for $1437.50 (includes buyer’s premium).

According to Gould’s thorough description, a silk and watercolor South Carolina Civil War era secessionist banner was rife with symbolism. A
single star indicated the South Carolinian’s desire to be fully independent, and a broken coconut at the base of the palmetto tree indicated the state’s separation from the Union. The symbol of the palmetto tree was added in 1861 as a reference to Colonel William Moultrie’s defense of Sullivan’s Island in 1776, in which he withstood an attack from a British fleet that hadn’t lost a battle in a century. The banner was once the property of South Carolina military historian and World War II submarine commander Fitzhugh McMaster, whose namesake ancestor had fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run. During his service as commander of the submarine Hardhead from April to October 1944,McMaster sank an enemy vessel in the Pacific Ocean.

Gould began by asking for an optimistic $50,000, but the market interest wasn’t there at that level. Framed and glazed, the banner sold for $2875. “I have no reason to think that we didn’t get it right, other than the price,” Gould said later. He  added, “The South Carolina State Museum was very excited…I have no doubt we got it in front of the right eyes.” But he admitted that it might have been a grange or a fraternal order piece.

The auction featured several examples of 18th-century crewel work from the collection of Martha Genung Stearns, author of Homespun and Blue: A Study of American Crewel Embroidery (published in 1940 and reprinted in 1963), Needle in Hand (1950), and other volumes. The items had been brought in by a couple of pickers who found them in New Hampshire. A crewel-decorated baby’s blanket was illustrated in the Homespun book (figure 16), and it featured vignette stitchings around the border of symbolic foliage and flowers, such as a Tudor rose, carnations, and pomegranates, and a dove framed in semicircular arches. The blanket sold for $2300. In her book, Stearns related the sunburst symbol to that on the back of George Washington’s armchair at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, about which Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “I have often wondered whether yonder sun is setting or rising…But now I know that it is a rising sun.”

For more information, visit Gould’s Web site ( or call (207) 362-6045.

This double-sided game board, painted in a brilliant combination of Indian red and chrome yellow with backgammon on one side and checkers on the other and an applied raised rim, produced a relatively modest $2300 price. “I thought the game board was extraordinary in every way. The dealer who bought it was ecstatic,” Gould confirmed later, adding, “I’ll go to my grave wondering what the game board was all about.” Gould photos.

Late 19th-century crewel work baby’s blanket, collection of Martha Genung Stearns, $2300. Gould photo.

Six grand for a painted pipe box? There were cards flapping all over the place as this wall hanging double pipe box in the original well-worn red paint passed $2500. With a dovetailed drawer, wooden knobs, and matching front and back arched sides, it finally finished at $6037.50. Double pipe boxes are very rare, and the pristine dry surface and the shaped panels put this one in a class by itself.

This New England tall clock with brass works in a cherry case with an arched bonnet with full columns, brass capitals and footers, and lacy reticulated crest with three ball finials made $2875, which wasn’t too shabby for an unmarked, unattributed clock.

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

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