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Robert Foster Opens the New Year

Mark Sisco | January 1st, 2014

Two mahogany tall-case clocks produced widely divergent prices. The darker clock above stopped at $550, but the lighter one on the right sailed all the way to $5170.

What made this $550 Native American Shasta basket most interesting was the original Hudson Bay Fur Co. label. A gentleman named Moritz Gutmann founded the Seattle, Washington, company in 1900, and it lasted until at least 1920, when a fire destroyed much of its merchandise. The label identified the makers as the Shasta tribe of Oregon and northern California and the material as split willow and wild grass.

Silver is still running strong at auction these days. Here’s a 115-piece International set in the Royal Danish pattern, without monograms, that rang in at a solid $3410. Photo courtesy Foster.

Another good silver strike. This Gorham sterling silver tea set in the Maintenon pattern with a teapot, creamer, sugar, and a double-handled tray sold for $1705. Photo courtesy Foster.

Newcastle, Maine

It’s a bright new year, the economy is climbing out of the tank, and the 2014 Maine auction year started off like every new year for the past several decades, with Robert Foster banging the hammer to a wall-bursting crowd at his Newcastle, Maine, gallery on January 1.

Here was a tale of two tall clocks, both unsigned and both probably American. The first was in dark mahogany and had a broken-arch pediment centering a small urn finial on the full-column bonnet and a dentil-molded waist with a scalloped door. The second, lighter-colored mahogany clock had a full-column bonnet, a reticulated three-urn pediment, a hand-painted tombstone arch dial, and a matching tombstone arch-shaped waist door flanked by reeded and brass-capped quarter columns. But it also had some significant repairs to the case. One of the columns on the bonnet had been replaced, and some of the wood in the waist looked oddly matched. So why did the darker one crash at $550 (including buyer’s premium) and the lighter one bring $5170? I checked with several knowledgeable clock dealers afterward, and no one seemed to have the answer to that, except that apparently there were two bidders who just really wanted the second one. The only other clue was the name “Wilson” on its works.

One of the centerpieces of the sale was a large 47" x 35" oil on canvas of three young children. The painting was heavily crackled but was in untouched pristine condition. The subjects and the artist were unknown, but the painting was said to have hung in the customs house in Wiscasset, Maine, for many years. It was very primitive in style; the heads of two of the children were considerably oversized for their small bodies. But when the hammer came down, it sold for a somewhat disappointing $2200 on a single bid.

A rare full-plate daguerreotype in an elaborate gilt frame with an oval églomisé gilt glass panel over the photograph sold for $247.50. The sitters were identified on a paper label on the reverse as “Rev. L. H. Beane/ his wife Sarah/ Their children/ Edward/ Calvin / Clarence/ Ida,” plus one illegible child’s name. The minister was a strikingly handsome gent, and the daguerreotype would have dated from around the 1850’s, but I wasn’t able to locate any info on Beane or his family.

One of the earliest and most curious items in the sale was a sword that Foster described simply as a “possible 17th-century antique sword.” It certainly appeared to be of that age or earlier. After searching through hundreds of sword illustrations on the Internet, I wasn’t able to come up with a close comparable. Likewise, the engraved inscription on the upper portion of each side of the blade remained tantalizingly illegible, with only the word “DOMINI” readable on one side and a possible “CONFUNDAR” on the other. The first might read “IN NOMINE DOMINI” or “In the Name of the Lord,” an inscription found on swords dating from the Middle Ages onward. The second could be a conjugation of the Latin “Confundo” meaning “to merge or join together.” The nearest comparables I could find were some German long swords with elaborate wrought-iron hilts, dating from the mid-16th to the mid-17th century. At least two knowledgeable bidders must have known what they were dueling for, and they chased it to $990.

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This full-plate daguerreotype of the Reverend L. H. Beane and his family brought $247.50.

This early European sword was listed as 17th century but is perhaps considerably earlier. Someone risked $990 on it.

George McConnell (1852-1929) of Portland, Maine, is much better known as a painter of ships, stormy seas, and wooded landscapes, but he did produce a few still-life paintings, including one of a lobster that hangs in Foster’s office area. This 15½" x 25½" painting of a basket of grapes and peaches spilling onto a stone slab sold for $715.

This Sheraton cherry and mahogany bowfront chest of drawers with reeded three-quarter columns under mushroom-capped cookie corners and a diamond-inlaid backsplash sold for $770.

Foster commented, “You couldn’t replace these rubies unless you found a hoard of old rubies.” The bracelet contained 13.5 carats of natural Burmese rubies, set in platinum, and it closed for $8250. Photo courtesy Foster.

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

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