This exquisite Tiffany and Colman primavera wood table, a masterpiece of Gilded Age craftsmanship, fetched $70,800 (includes buyer’s premium).
These Tiffany and Colman side chairs were in decent dry, untouched condition. Unlike the table, they possessed their original brass and glass ball feet and sold for $53,100 (est. $30,000/40,000).
Most people do not associate Louis Comfort Tiffany with furniture. Obviously, we think of lamps, glass, jewelry, and smaller decorative objects as the backbone of the firm’s output. There exists, however, a rare genre of Gilded Age furniture known collectively as Tiffany and Colman.
The latter member of this collaboration is renowned Hudson River painter Samuel Colman, who by 1879 had turned to the business of interior decorating. Tiffany, Colman, Lockwood de Forest, and CandaceWheeler partnered to form the design firm Associated Artists. Perhaps the most illustrious of their “total environment” makeover projects was an opulent mansion at 244 Madison Avenue, across from Central Park. This lavish brownstone was the residence of sugar magnate and art collector Henry O. Havemeyer. This house remained in the hands of the Havemeyer family until 1914, at which time most of the furnishings were dispersed through public auction, and the old house was razed to usher in the era of skyscrapers. Many but not all of the furnishings ended up in various museums.
Privately owned Tiffany and Colman furniture is exceedingly rare and almost never comes up for public sale. It was noteworthy in 2012 when Doyle New York sold a Tiffany and Colman settee, a well-documented piece from the original Havemeyer house collection (see M.A.D., April 2012, p. 11-A). The settee’s price of $422,500 was probably a record, since it appears that no other examples of this genre of furniture have sold in recent public auctions.
The proprietors at Ivey-Selkirk Auctioneers, St. Louis, Missouri, were elated when they acquired two lots of Tiffany/Colman furniture—a table and a set of four chairs to be sold on March 16. Each piece was elegantly crafted from exotic primavera wood, elaborately carved, and lavishly inlaid with fine micromosaic marquetry. The estimates of $70,000/100,000 for the table and $30,000/40,000 for the set of chairs seemed conservative, given the 2012 Doyle results.
According to Ivey-Selkirk’s auction manager, Terry Beye, there was considerable interest during the preview week. At the sale, however, there was only sparse bidding. The table sold for $70,800 (includes buyer’s premium), and the set of chairs brought $53,100. Both lots went to a single anonymous phone bidder. After the sale, Beye conceded that the combined price for both lots ($123,900) was disappointing in light of the total that the settee had achieved at Doyle.
Auction watchers speculate ad nauseum when rationalizing the market vagaries for antiques. For those who lack visionary powers, the best divining rods are quality, rarity, condition, and provenance. In this regard, the Ivey-Selkirk items of Tiffany and Colman were two for four. No question—these objects are rare masterpieces of late Victorian craftsmanship, but condition was not top shelf, especially in the case of the table, which was missing its original glass feet. Furthermore, Ivey-Selkirk was unable to identify any provenance prior to the late 1960’s, when the pieces were acquired by a Washington, D.C., antiques dealer.
It will be interesting to see if other Tiffany and Colman furniture emerges for auction and how the market will value these things. It seems that some boundaries may have been established between the recent Doyle New York and Ivey-Selkirk sales, but the sample size is too small to draw any definitive conclusions.
Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest