This 8" long scrimshawed tooth by the so-called Pagoda Artist or Albatross Artist sold for $324,000 to a Michigan collector sitting in the audience. The underbidder was on the phone. The price establishes a new auction record for scrimshaw, breaking the $303,000 paid for the same tooth in 2005. The tooth is engraved on one side with a fully rigged ship with reduced sails, four whaleboats engaged in harpooning five whales, and four albatrosses in flight. The other side features a Federal period house, foliage, a crescent moon, a five-pointed star, and a stylized sun.
The China trade view of Hong Kong and the harbor in the 1860s, oil on canvas, 16¾" x 37", showing American and British ships at anchor, sold well above estimate at $56,640 to a phone bidder. A China trade watercolor on paper of the hongs at Canton (not shown), 8" x 23", also soared above estimate at $36,580 to an in-house bidder.
The pair of portraits by the Chinese artist Spoilum (active c. 1765-1806)one depicting Captain James Cary of Nantucket and the other of hong merchant Chung Quawas estimated at $100,000/150,000. A phone bidder paid $401,000 to acquire them. The underbidder was Ben Simons, the Robyn and John Davis Chief Curator of the Nantucket Historical Association. The portraits, conserved in the 1990s, retain their original strainers, glass, and frames. The back of Carys likeness has a note that reads, James Cary portrait, taken in Canton, February 10, 1802, Aged 24 yrs., 11 months, 10 days. Each oil on canvas is 24" x 18½".
Florida dealer Lou Hammond picked up this scrimshawed whales tooth attributed to the artist known as the Banknote Engraver for $10,030 (est. $4000/6000). The 5¼" high tooth featured a bust-length portrait of a woman in a fancy hat on one side and a bird on a berried branch on the other.
Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
by Clayton Pennington
Photos courtesy Northeast Auctions
Its the best piece of pictorial scrimshaw in the world. Thats how Dr. Stuart M. Frank, senior curator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, author of Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists, and dean of the scrimshaw cognoscenti, described the 8" long whales tooth decorated by the so-called Albatross Artist (or Pagoda Artist). He added, Its great art.
The toothdecorated with a fully rigged ship, whaleboats, whales, albatrosses, a Federal house, foliage, a crescent moon, a five-pointed star, a sun, and moresold to a Michigan collector for $324,000 (includes buyers premium) at Northeast Auctions annual marine, China trade, and historical Americana auction under the tent in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on August 18 and 19. The underbidder was on the phone.
The price establishes a new auction record for scrimshaw, breaking the $303,000 mark set when the same tooth sold to Boston dealer Stephen OBrien, bidding for a client at a Northeast Auctions sale on August 21, 2005.
The owner and founder of Northeast Auctions, Ron Bourgeault, commented, It just proves that the best is always the best. (The buyers premium at Northeast Auctions is higher in 2012 than it was in 2005; its now 18% up to $200,000 and 10% above $200,000, compared to 16% up to $100,000 and 10% above in 2005. Still, the buyers premium increase wasnt the sole reason for breaking the record. The hammer price in 2005 was $270,000; in 2012, the hammer price was $280,000.)
The identity of the Albatross Artist is unknown. His work features distinctive rows of Chinese-style buildings...that appear on several pieces and spread-eagle birds in flight that dominate what is probably the best-known example, a tooth in the Barbara Johnson collection, according to Franks Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists. (To see other examples, including his work on a powder horn, check E. Norman Flaydermans Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders, pages 107 and 145.)
The record-breaking tooth was not the top lot in the two-day sale. The sale totaled $4,070,000, the highest amount for a Northeast Auctions marine sale since the three-day auction in the summer of 2008, anchored by the J. Welles Henderson collection, that brought in $7.924 million.
Hendersons son, collector J. Welles Henderson III, known as Joe, purchased the top lot in the 2012 auction: a pair of portraits by Chinese portrait painter Spoilum (active c. 1765-1806). Henderson, bidding by phone, paid $401,000 for the oil on canvas likenesses of Captain James Cary of Nantucket and hong merchant Chung Qua of Canton. The underbidder was Ben Simons, the Robyn and John Davis Chief Curator of the Nantucket Historical Association, seated in the rear of the tent.
Bourgeault said of Joe Henderson, He had always idolized his fathers collection. When we sold it, anything he wanted, he had to buy at the auction because it all went in a trust. He bought three or four great things there. At the last minute, he decided these [portraits] would add to his collection...he absolutely fell in love with them. Bourgeault added, They are in the new Henderson collection.
The portraits were well known, appearing in the 1994 exhibition From Brant Point to the Boca Tigris: Nantucket and the China Trade at the Nantucket Historical Association. Cary appears on the front cover of the exhibition catalog, and Chung Quas portrait is on the rear. According to the exhibition catalog, family tradition maintains that when Cary was in Canton, he commissioned Spoilum to paint his portrait as a gift to Chung Qua, his trading partner. The two exchanged portraits. Then, because Cary was impressed by the portrait of himself, he sat for a duplicate portrait that he brought home. Still under the original glass, the portraits had remained in the family ever since.
They were consigned by a direct descendant. When I first saw them after the museum show, they were in a private home in Connecticut, said Bourgeault. The consignors move to Florida resulted in a call to Northeast Auctions and ultimately the consignment. (The exhibition catalog identified the owner of the portraits as Jane Congdon Quinby, in memory of her mother, Alice Cary Tobie Congdon.)
Other lots that Cary, captain of the 306-ton Rose, acquired in the Far East and brought home included a Chinese export cider jug he commissioned with decorations for his parents, Edward Cary and Lydia Hussey Barnard. One side of the jug featured the Carys estate in Squam, and the other pictured the family ropewalk (a long narrow building where rope is made). The cider jug, also included in the 1994 exhibition, sold to Simons, bidding for the Nantucket Historical Association, for $49,560 (est. $30,000/50,000).
The jug will be placed on display in the Whaling Museum at 13 Broad Street in Nantucket in the exhibition area dedicated to the history of Nantucket and the China trade. To have a view of the Cary farm in Squam and a depiction of a Nantucket ropewalk on a porcelain article produced by a Chinese craftsman is simply remarkable, said Simons.
There were disappointments. A scrimshawed tooth from the ship Susan of Nantucket, estimated at $125,000/175,000, was passed with no bidding. Another Susan tooth had sold a fortnight earlier, perhaps dampening the tooths prospects. A bidder paid $139,200 for one at Rafael Osonas sale on Nantucket on August 4. A large polychrome eagle plaque by John Haley Bellamy, estimated at $150,000/200,000, also failed to find a buyer.
Several days after the more than 1000-lot sale was over, Bourgeault said, I really felt it indicated the market is headed in the right direction. He noted that there were approximately 150 consignors, 300 buyers, and over 800 people registered to bid.
For more information, call (207) 225-3797 or check the Web site (www.northeastauctions.com).
This European portrait of an American hero, Lieutenant John J. Yarnall, was painted by Charles Delin (Dutch, 1756-1818). The 21" x 17" oil on canvas sold to a phone bidder for $21,240 (est. $5000/8000), underbid by Frederick, Maryland, dealer James Kochan in the audience. Yarnall served with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry aboard the Lawrence during the Battle of Lake Erie on September 13, 1813. The paintings provenance included Israel Sack Inc., which had bought it directly from Yarnalls descendants.
The striking carved and painted figurehead of a young woman from the four-masted bark Joseph Dollar sold well above the $50,000/75,000 estimate at $165,200 to a phone bidder, underbid by a dealer with a cell phone to his ear. According to the catalog, the 103" carving was originally executed for the Schuerbek built in 1902 by J. Reid & Co. of Glasgow and possibly modeled after Erna Grohmann (1874-1963), the oldest daughter of Heinrich Grohmann, a partner in the sail-making firm of A.K. Schmidt & Co. The Schuerbek was purchased by the Dollar Steamship Company of San Francisco in 1921 and renamed the Joseph Dollar. In 1929 the figurehead was placed in the collection of the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, and it was deaccessioned circa 2000. Where has it been for 12 years? The de Young museum deaccession notes reveal only that it was sent to auction. Pennington photo.
This pair of Chinese porcelain blue and white jardinières dates from the 19th century, according to the buyer, dealer Michael Fong of Macau, China. Fong had to pay much more than the $1200 high estimate, shelling out $21,830. Why so much? Theyre large (each 18" high x 21" wide) and finding pairs is rare, he said. Fong was a major buyer at the sale.
The 13¼" oval, lidded patriotic ditty box is decorated with a sailor, an American flag, an eagle, stars, a schooner, and a bark. Dealer Patricia Stauble of Wiscasset, Maine, gave it a run, but in the end a phone bidder won it for $4248 (est. $800/1200).
A poor mans Homer is how one sage described this 30" x 40" oil on canvas by Jeff Weaver (b. 1953). Estimated at $5000/8000, it brought $12,390. Weaver, who lives and works in Gloucester, Massachusetts, signed the work Gloucester Fishermen on Halibut Grounds/ 2006/ Jeff Weaver.
A 20th-century silver-plate cocktail shaker in the form of a lighthouse by the Meriden Britannia Company, 19" tall, sold for $4838 (est. $300/500) to a phone bidder.
The pair of Chinese export porcelain Famille Rose candlesticks sold for $7316 (est. $800/1200). Why so high? Bourgeault announced from the podium that a note found with the 7¼" high sticks revealed that they had descended in the family of John Quincy Adams. Each had ducks in flight, a boy, a water buffalo, and a dog.
The 42" long red-painted sleigh in the form of a tugboat features an eagle finial over the wheelhouse and wood and wrought-iron runners. Estimated at $1200/1800, the 19th-century object did much better than that, bringing $10,915 from a phone bidder, underbid by Florida dealer Michael Whittemore in the audience. Bourgeault noted that it had come from an island in Maine.
The 1775-85 Chinese export porcelain Tobacco Leaf tureen, cover, and platter featuring pheasants and squirrels (tureen 9 7/8" long) sold well above the $6000 high estimate for $23,600.
William Hare (1815-1865) inscribed this oil on canvas Pocahontas of New-Port R.I. Freeman R. Berry Master. Hares 22¼" x 27¼" painting sold for $16,520 (est. $3000/5000) to a phone bidder. Thats a healthy price. In 2010 Garths in Delaware, Ohio, sold an almost identical picture by Hare of the Maria Jane for $1998, and in 2008 Eldreds in East Dennis, Massachusetts, sold a Hare painting inscribed Brig J.R. Rhoades of Boston, Franklin Mathews Master for $3335.
Audubons Carolina Parrot, No. 6, Plate 26, from The Birds of America, 38¼" x 25¼", sold for $64,900 to a phone bidder on the line with Northeasts Frank Coolidge. The same buyer bought (not shown) Grey Fox, No. 5, Plate XXI, from The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, 23¾" x 29½", for $9676 as well as five other Audubon prints at $2124, $1180, $236, $236, and $826.
Two rare documents sold back to back, both to the same phone bidder. The first was a framed letter written by naval legend John Paul Jones, commander of the Ranger, to John Langdon. The October 31, 1777, letter was written the day before Jones sailed for France. It sold for $56,050 (est. $15,000/20,000). The next lot, an autographed letter by Samuel Adams (signer of the Declaration of Independence) to Portsmouths John Langdon, brought $67,260.