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Memorial Day Sale Attracts the Faithful Despite Cold Snap

David Hewett | May 25th, 2013

This is how the Hannan merchandise (plus a few similar additions) looked as it was displayed in one of the rooms in the reconstructed French house. Now imagine about 20 would-be buyers squeezed into the room and see what it was like during Saturday and Sunday mornings’ inspection periods. The William A. Smith auction company doesn’t stint on advertising, and it pays off. There were bidders here from New Jersey, Alabama, and other points south and west.

To help ease folks from the cold, the wind, and the rain that came down in sheets on Saturday, late in the afternoon the crew fired up the fireplace. Chilled dealers and auction crew alike enjoyed the heat and told tales of past sales, successes, and mistakes. Photo by Leon of the Bill Smith crew.


The stepback cupboard in green paint is 5'7" high and choice, even if the origin is uncertain (some opted for northern Vermont, others Canada, and a few even said Pennsylvania). Wherever the origin, a phone bidder paid $7700 for it.

This portrait of Jane Clay of Claremont, New Hampshire, was painted by Horace Bundy in 1848 and was owned by Winifred O’Shaughnessy when it was featured in an October 1994 article in The Magazine Antiques. The 30" x 25" oil cost a phone bidder $27,500.

This candlestand has a sweet surface and great form. A Vermont dealer paid $4180 for it, and he’ll make money with it.

This 44" long one-drawer blanket chest is in red and black paint and was purchased by Tom Hannan at an auction in southern Vermont in the mid-1960’s for $65. Here, it sold to dealers from the same area for $8525.

This is the game board that drew the most attention and highest price. It’s 15" square and in salmon and green paint. A phone bidder took it for $5170, with dealer Hilary Nolan the underbidder.

William A. Smith Inc., Plainfield, New Hampshire

Memorial Day Weekend is a traditional time for parades, decorating the graves of the departed, outdoor barbecues, and family reunions—all fine American traditions. That wasn’t quite how it was celebrated in northern New England this year.

Think of a fresh snowfall of up to 34" on some of the mountain peaks that same weekend; think of flooding in rural Vermont towns and canoeing down main streets; and think of high winds coupled with a cold snap that froze freshly planted flower and vegetable plants. How about spending the Sunday of the three-day holiday, May 25-27, outside under a tent in Plainfield, New Hampshire, for a William Smith sale in 40-degree weather that felt like 20 degrees?

The tent session was for the sale of the Tom and Alison Hannan collection. The tent was packed on Sunday, and the Hannans’ stuff was the big draw. Thomas E. Hannan died on February 16, 2000, at 72 years of age. His widow, Alison, remained in their home in Guilford, Vermont (near the Massachusetts border), until a recent move into assisted living quarters. Bill Smith and crew came down and picked up the estate.

Tom Hannan was a jazz drummer; an artist (New York City art dealer Betty Krulik showed Hannan’s work in the exhibition In the Circle of Hans Hofmann: Works from the Hannan Art Collection from February 20 to March 15); an art collector; a designer of jazz record jackets for Prestige, Blue Note, and Columbia; and a dealer and collector of antiques.

Participating in that last category, he exhibited at New York City’s Winter Antiques Show. He was one of a small group of top-end dealers residing in southern Vermont in the last quarter of the 20th century. Hannan had good company in those ranks, which included Hillary Underwood, Audrey R. Conniff, and a few others.

Because of Hannan’s reputation, just about everyone interested in Americana made it to Smith’s premises in Plainfield to preview. There aren’t many estates left here in New England in which lurk country Americana of the degree that Hannan was known for. Grace and Elliott Snyder, Bill Samaha, Hilary Nolan, Joe Martin, and others were there. Some said Stephen Score and the guys from Olde Hope Antiques had also come and gone.

Hannan’s material was set up for viewing in the historic 18th-century French house next to Smith’s auction gallery, where it was so crowded that photography was next to impossible. The French house was reassembled on the auction grounds by William Smith Sr., since deceased. When an estate comes to auction from a dealer, rather than a collector, it often contains the pieces that the dealer couldn’t or wouldn’t sell. That can happen because of condition, mistakes, or too high an asking price.

One Hannan piece, a lowboy, fooled both Smith and Ken Labnon, the other auctioneer for the company. The story was that Hannan had found it in the basement of a house in New York City. It looked very good when they took it out of the Hannans’ house, Labnon said. When it was displayed in the fairly dark reconstructed French house, it still looked pretty good. But when it was moved out for inspection on the morning of the sale, its problems became more obvious.

When it came up for sale as lot #25, Smith announced from the podium that they were rescinding the 18th-century description. “It’s had extensive restoration, folks,” he told the standing-room-only crowd. “We thought it was all right and wanted it to be right, but once we got it out in the sun, we saw it had several issues with authenticity. So be warned; it has a lot of problems,” Smith cautioned. Would-be buyers heeded his advice, and it sold for a very low $990 (includes buyer’s premium).

The lot that followed the lowboy was one of the real treasures of the sale. The 30" x 25" oil on canvas portrait of Jane Clay was signed on the reverse by artist Horace Bundy (1814-1883) and dated 1848. It wasn’t a Hannan piece. (Smith and Labnon had told the crowd that they’d added some similar pieces from other consignors to fill out the session.) Clay’s portrait had appeared in an article by Lauren B. Hewes, titled “Horace Bundy, Itinerant Portraitist,” in The Magazine Antiques, October 1994, on page 491. Portraits of the other children painted by Bundy also appear in that article; they include The Six Vaughan Children. Clay’s portrait sold to a phone bidder for $27,500.

Several pieces of furniture appeared to be Canadian, to our eye, and that’s not the damning situation in the border states that it once was. Good Canadian forms in decent finishes are highly desirable. Falmouth, Massachusetts, dealer Hilary Nolan picked up a fine one-drawer stand or table with a thick top and great turned base that appeared to be of Quebec 18th-century origin. For only $3520, he got a great buy.

Several of the cupboards were also probably of north of the border origin. A red and black paint-decorated New England blanket chest with one drawer was snapped up by a Vermont dealer for $8525. It too had an interesting history, related by Smith. Hannan had bought it sometime in the mid-1960’s at an auction in Brattleboro for $65. He asked the auctioneer, Paul Lawton, if he’d overpaid for it. “Oh no, sixty-five dollars, that’s about what they’re going for these days,” Lawton had replied, according to Smith.

An early Federal low chest in red and black paint and painted floral decoration and on ogee feet drew attention from on-site and phone bidders. One of the latter took the chest for $37,400. Tom Hannan had paid $7000 for it at a sale in New York during the 1980’s.

There were many lots of Windsor chairs here. They sold as singles and pairs, in bow-back, low-back, continuous arm, thumb-back, sack-back, writing arm with drawer, and fan-back configurations.

The Windsors brought prices as low as $220 for a bow-back up to $7700 for a very good bow-back, $1925 for a writing-arm Windsor attributed to the E.B. Tracy shop, and $6600 for a comb-back armchair.

There were at least two groups of material added to the Hannan consignments, a mechanical bank collection and assorted Native American objects. The top-priced cast-iron mechanical bank appeared to be the 4" high example named Afghanistan Bank/ Herat, made by Kyser & Rex, which brought $6325. A 12" high Southwest Native American pottery jar sold for $4400; an 11" high one brought $2200.

With the selling outside under the tent scenario; the bidders wrapped in packing blankets; and the stacks of woodenware and early tin lighting, teddy bears, English Brown Bess flintlock long guns with polished brass hardware, and a never-ending series of chests, both tall and low, crossing the block, it was very easy to imagine that you were back in the mid-1970’s watching Dick Withington of Hillsboro, New Hampshire, cajole bids from the crowd.

The next day’s sale, held inside the Smith galleries, consisted of almost 550 lots of assorted general material. The offerings ran from Tiffany glass pieces to Continental furniture, from American coins to Oriental rugs, and from jewelry to Chinese export pottery and porcelain. We didn’t stay for that sale.

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Dealer Hilary Nolan took the early one-drawer table/stand with a thick top and turned base back to Falmouth, Massachusetts, with him for a $3520 bid. With the turned understructure, it appears to us to be an 18th-century Quebec product. (See Antique Furniture of Québec by Michel Lessard [2002], p. 166, for chairs with that type of turned construction.) Nolan got a rare piece for a reasonable price.

During bidding it appeared that everyone was on this 50" long blanket chest at one time or another. Tom Hannan had reportedly paid $7000 for it at an auction in the 1980’s. A phone bidder outlasted everyone in the room and got it for $37,400.

This 9½" x 12" pen-and-ink and watercolor mourning scene for Moses Chase, who is buried in Plaistow, New Hampshire, sold to a phone bidder for $3300.

Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest.

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