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Men's Historical Clothing Sells Big Time

Richard de Thuin | November 13th, 2013


Thomas McDonough was appointed the first British consul to New England (Boston) in 1790. He owned this British consul’s coat and breeches (and there is a portrait of him wearing them). The red wool broadcloth cutaway coat has blue facings, a high stand collar, gold bullion embroidery, and gold etched buttons with insignia. The tan buckskin breeches of below knee length have black laces and self-covered buttons to fit a 32" waist. The room fought bidders on the Internet and phones and won this lot above estimate for $20,400.


This black wool man’s double-breasted broadcloth American tailcoat, 1810-20, has a double-notched collar, a quilted black silk lining, light blue pinstripe silk sleeve lining, and embossed black silk lining. In excellent condition, it carried a provenance from the Canterbury and Smith families of New England. A bidder in the room vying against the Internet won the tailcoat for $6600 (est. $500/800).

Worn by John Hathaway Jr. at his wedding to Hannah Coen Sherman on June 13, 1809, in Massachusetts, this three-piece wool suit consists of a pair of fawn breeches, one black spencer coat, and one black velvet vest. The suit far exceeded its $1200/1500 estimate and brought $16,800 from a phone bidder.

These high lace boots, described in the catalog as lipstick red, have Louis heels. The 10¼" tall, 9¾" long boots, circa 1900, were in excellent condition and went to the same bidder on Karen Augusta’s phone who had won the peacock blue silk corset. The boots brought $3000 (est. $300/500).

Augusta Auctions, New York City

Photos courtesy Augusta Auctions

It was much to-do about men’s historical clothing at Augusta Auctions’ couture and vintage fashion, historic clothing, and fashion accessories sale held on November 13, 2013, at Landmark on the Park on Central Park West in New York City. The historical aspect of the auction was appropriate not only for collectors and dealers but because Landmark on the Park sits in close proximity to the New-York Historical Society. So, it seemed for a while as if the years between the late 16th century and the 21st century simply melted away.

This was Augusta’s second year at this location, which in actuality is an impressive-looking church, at least from the inside. Impressive as well were the plush red chairs for bidders to sit on while getting down to business. The topmost sellers among men’s historical clothing included coats, breeches, two bicorn hats, a beaver hat, and a tailcoat.

The first British consul to New England was Thomas McDonough, who resided in Boston beginning in 1790. His red wool broadcloth cutaway coat and his tan buckskin breeches sold above estimate for $20,400 (includes buyer’s premium). Sold separately, McDonough’s fur felt court bicorn brought $1320.

A bit of a surprise was the selling price for a brown linen middle-class man’s day suit, dyed with butternuts, from Rhode Island during the 1780’s, which went to a phone bidder above estimate for $26,400. Another phone bidder won a three-piece man’s wool wedding suit consisting of a pair of fawn breeches, a black spencer coat, and a black velvet vest, worn by a groom for his June 13, 1809, wedding in Massachusetts, at more than nine times the high estimate for $16,800.

Vintage fashions for women scored some hits too. There was a run of Pucci and Pierre Cardin clothing. The Pucci clothing was beach oriented, and the Cardin clothing very much not beach oriented. A bargain, as bargains go, was a Pucci velvet beach bag from the 1970’s, consisting of a stylized floral pattern in green, brown, and yellow on a fuchsia and purple ground, which realized $300 from a gentleman in the room bidding for a dealer in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. A Pierre Cardin multicolored lace cocktail dress from the 1960’s with a “Pierre Cardin Paris New York” label went to the same bidder at $840 (est. $300/400).

An admirer of the designer Bill Blass scored a coup by winning a circa 1980 beaded black-and-white evening gown with a white plaid bodice for $90. A young man bidding for a Paris collector matched the high estimate to win an Oleg Cassini sequin dress from the late 20th century (the sequins were in wavy stripes of blue, green, and black) for $360.

Leila Dunbar handled her auctioneer duties in her usual professional manner, hammering home some 420 lots, without so much as a lunch break. Missing lunch was unfortunate for her because the food served from Wooden Spoon Republic, a caterer located in the rear of the salesroom, was good and hot. (The outside temperature was 30 degrees.)

Karen Augusta and Bob Ross, principals of Augusta Auctions, know how to pull off a first-rate auction of vintage fashions when they travel down to New York City from Vermont. Their customers feel lucky they do so, because this auction house offers some fascinating clothing, accessories, and textiles at prices that seldom, if ever, carry a reserve. With the exception of an Elsa Schiaparelli evening cape, 1937-38, estimated at $15,000/20,000, that was passed, we don’t remember any other lot at Augusta that failed to sell. That’s a record to be proud of.

For more information, contact Augusta Auctions at (802) 376-9988; Web site (www.augusta-auction.com). Augusta’s next New York City auction is scheduled for April 9.


Condition Key for Garments and Textiles

  • Pristine: Close to perfect, no visible flaws or evidence of wear.
  • Excellent: Gentle wear or minor damage, easily repaired.
  • Very good: Basically sound, either has repairs or is in need of repairs.
  • Fair: Significant, easily visible evidence of wear or damage.
  • Poor: No longer intact, useful only to recycle parts.

It was the room against the Internet during the bidding for this point de gaze (gauze lace) dress from the 1930’s. The cream needle lace has an allover pattern of flowers and scrolls with a net backing, a skirt with a train, unattached bodice and sleeves, an original paper tag “No. 4185 Made in Belgium,” and a skirt length of 46" to 58" front to back. In excellent condition, the dress had been purchased circa 1934 by Mrs. Raymond Firestone from European artisans. It sold here to the room for $30,000 (est. $1500/2000).

This brown linen middle-class man’s day suit, dyed with butternuts, has one unlined jacket with self-fabric buttons (ten at front and two at back) and two pockets with flaps and one pair of matching breeches lined with natural linen with waistband laces and six brass knee buttons. From Rhode Island during the 1780’s, the suit had a few defects (knee bands’ buckles missing and replaced with buttons, missing breeches buttons, scattered fade spots, worn collar, and sleeves let out and resewn by machine) but attracted two phones against the room bidders to whom the defects apparently weren’t that important. A phone bidder won the suit for $26,400 (est. $4000/5000). Provenance: Mason family of Bristol, Rhode Island.

This embroidered robe from China is 106" long and 92" wide and from the 19th century. The intricately embroidered design is on a red satin ground. There are couched gold dragons, an embroidered polychrome silk heavenly temple, flying cranes, and an embroidered green satin band around the perimeter and at the center front opening. In very good condition, this robe sold to the room (est. $600/800) for $13,200.

Three phones worked hard to outdo an absentee bid for one of the most-anticipated fashion items in the auction, a Paco Rabanne coat and helmet. The 1965-67 example is of brown wool knit in heavy gauge with its surface covered in leather triangles attached at the corners with silver metal studs, with leather ties on the coat and on the helmet, all in excellent condition. Bidding opened at the top estimate of $5000 and proceeded upward until the hammer descended at $24,000.


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

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