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Maritime Art at Auction

Jackie Sideli | July 18th, 2013

This diminutive framed oil on canvas, 12" x 16", was presented on the second day of the sale and was the top lot. A classic yacht racing scene, signed on the lower right “J.E. Buttersworth,” it was painted by American master James Edward Buttersworth (1817-1894). It had impeccable provenance—it had been in the private collection of Robert C. Eldred Sr. and a private collection in Germany. After much competitive bidding, the painting brought a solid $177,000, far surpassing the presale estimate of a modest $40,000/60,000.

One of several outstanding prisoner-of-war model ships offered, this 19th-century example was made of bone and horn, with a helmeted warrior figurehead and carved trail boards. It had three gun decks and 76 delicately turned wood guns and exquisite detail to the rigging and deck works with bone blocks and deadeyes. The stern board and captain’s quarters have deep relief figural carving and four bone anchors (two on each side) with ebonized banding and steel flukes. The model had a walnut parquetry base with ebony and bone inlay. Measuring 23¾" high x 32" long, it brought $29,500 from a buyer on the phone.

Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc., East Dennis, Massachusetts

Photos courtesy Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc. held a focused sale of maritime art in East Dennis, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod on July 18 and 19. A large part of this auction (lots 1-240) was focused on the Benno Brenninkmeyer (1940-2012) collection.

Brenninkmeyer was born in the Netherlands during World War II. He was interested in all things marine. He earned his degree in oceanography and taught at Boston College, where he would regale his students with tales of the sea, and when at leisure he searched out anything marine and marine-related.

Even the blazing heat during the auction—temperatures reached 100 degrees under the normally cool tent—could not dim the enthusiasm for the material presented. Many buyers were bidding on line and on the phone, and there were many left bids.

An octagonal engraved brass pocket sundial was marked on the front “Paris Degre 48” and engraved “1692” on the reverse with numerous cities and their degrees. It appeared to have its original wooden case with relief carving of a monogram and crown, and it measured a diminutive 2 1/8" x 1¾". It had an estimate of $500/1000, but enthusiasm for the piece pushed the price to $1298 (includes buyer’s premium).

The top lot of the two-day auction was the oil on canvas by American master James Edward Buttersworth (1817-1894). Measuring a smallish 12" x 16", it was signed on the lower right “J.E. Buttersworth.” It had been in the private collection of Robert C. Eldred Sr., and then went to a private collection in Germany. With a reasonable  $40,000/60,000 presale estimate, the painting brought a stunning $177,000.

This was a very full and successful sale for Eldred’s. The variety and quality of the Brenninkmeyer collection added to a very strong sale. Despite the absurdly hot day, bidding from the floor, Internet, and phones was solid.

For more information, call Eldred’s at (508) 385-3116, or check the Web site at (

This scarce and desirable set of The Voyages of Captain Cook,a total of eight volumes plus two folio atlas volumes, was in a gilt light brown calf with patterned decoration. According to catalog notes, all of the volumes had been rebacked. It was presented early in the Eldred marine sale and drew lots of Internet and phone bidders, as well as action from the floor. There were one or two bookplates in each volume. John Hawkesworth’s An Account of The Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty For Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, As successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook... (First Voyage) in three volumes was printed in London, 1773, and was a second edition with first edition title pages. Also presented was Captain Cook’s A Voyage Towards The South Pole and Round The World…(Second Voyage), London, 1777, a first edition in two volumes plus atlas volume. All plates and maps called for are in the atlas, and 23 plates are repeated in the text volumes. James Cook and James King’s A Voyage To The Pacific Ocean Undertaken by The Command of His Majesty, For Making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere (Third Voyage), in three volumes plus atlas volume, was printed in London, 1784, by G. Hughs for G. Nicol and T. Cadell. After some competitive bidding, the set sold for $18,880.

This scarce and beautiful 18th-century English brass universal equinoctial ring dial was marked “C. Lincoln, London.” It was a rare instrument used to determine the time of day, with the meridian ring numbers registering in tens from zero to 90 in four sections. The equatorial ring was marked in hours with Roman numerals. The rotating inner ring pivots and included Roman and Arabic numbers. Measuring just 9" in diameter, it was found in the collection of Benno Brenninkmeyerand sold for $10,620, far surpassing the presale estimate of $2000/3000.

This 18th-century (or earlier) carved boxwood nocturnal with heart-shaped handle was incised “Both Bears.” It measured 10¾" long. The catalog states that “A nocturnal is used to tell time at night using the Little Dipper and Big Dipper constellations, formally known as Ursa Minor and Ursa Major. Ursa is Latin for Bear, hence giving meaning to ‘Both Bears.’” The fairly cautious presale estimate of $1500/2500 was surpassed, and it sold for $5605.

There were several phones for this scrimshaw whale’s tooth dating from the mid-19th century. It has elaborate decoration. The vignettes show a whale ship at sea, a whale ship with a whale being brought alongside for cutting, and a whale ship harpooning a whale, as well as floral decoration. Sepia ink was used for emphasis. It measured 8½" tall, and according to the catalog, it was purchased by the consignor’s grandfather on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1920’s. One of Eldred’s staff noted that they had picked it up in New York City. With plenty of competitive bidding from the phone and floor, the tooth sold for $34,220.

One of the highest lots in the auction was this dramatic polychrome scrimshaw whale’s tooth, dating from the mid-19th century. Found in a private collection in Australia, it featured an American spread-wing eagle clutching a red, white, and blue shield in its talons and a red, white, and blue banner in its beak. A beautifully executed red, white, and blue 12-star American flag and the eagle’s wings wrap almost entirely around the circumference. With wonderful patina, it measured 6½". There were seven phones, and bidding opened at $20,000. After some aggressive competitive bidding, it sold for a very strong $64,900 (est. $30,000/50,000) to the phone.

Another treasure from the collection of Benno Brenninkmeyer was this antique American bronze ship’s cannon, marked “1831” and “D. Kahnweilers Son’s. N.Y. H.M.T., U.S. 1” and  24" long. Positioned on a wooden truck with galvanized mounts, 30" long, it had a modest presale estimate of $1000/1500 but sold quickly for $2360.

Another item from the Brenninkmeyer collection was a carved wooden ship hull, 21" long. The deck lifts off to reveal an interior of a slave ship with many glued-down forms of bodies. With lots of interest, it brought $11,800.

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

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