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The Potomack Company Catalog Sale

Walter C. Newman | June 8th, 2013

High lot of the Potomack sale was this ancient Roman marble bust from the first century. The sculpture depicts Agrippina the Elder, wife of Germanicus and mother of Gaius or Caligula. The bust is life size, 14" x 8¼" x   5¾". The subject is depicted with her hair parted in the center with tight corkscrew curls ending in a short queue at the nape of her neck. A dated 1938 letter of authentication is included. The piece rests on a later 41" high spiral fluted marble column. The bust sold to a phone bidder for $55,812.50 (est. $40,000/60,000).

This Chinese summer robe is made of lined gauze and is embroidered with a couched gold thread design of nine dragons amid cloud scrolls and flaming pearls. The robe is trimmed with couched gold and brocade bands on the cuffs. The side closure has pierced gilt bronze buttons. The robe sold to a left bid for $3525 (est. $2000/3000).

This ten-panel folding screen is Korean. The scenes depict 24 filial piety stories from Confucian teachings. The stories have been adopted throughout Asian culture and deal with various aspects of respect for one’s parents and ancestors. These images are in the manner of Shin Yun-Bok, known as Hyewon (Korean, b. 1758). Each panel measures 44" x 13 3/8" and is rendered in ink, gold paint, and watercolor on rice paper. This screen was hotly contested among several bidders; the contest eventually narrowed to a telephone bidder and a collector in the room. The ultimate winning bid came from the phone at $26,437.50 (est. $2000/3000).

According to family history this large Famille Rose jardinière was purchased in China at the turn of the 20th century. It was taken to the U.S. where it was a survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The 20" diameter piece is decorated with a wide central band featuring a large dragon figure on a floral background. The jardinière sold to a telephone bidder for $6462.50 (est. $2000/3000).

This lot looks like oxidized Cracker Jack prizes. They are actually various tiny metal objects from the same tomb as the mummy cloth. The individual pieces range in size from ¼" to 2". The lot sold to the phone for $4112.50 (est. $500/1000).

Alexandria, Virginia

Photos courtesy Potomack

We last visited The Potomack Company in March when the firm formally opened its new gallery and salesroom. There were a few minor hiccups with that first catalog sale, but if the two-day auction of June 8 and 9 is any indication, whatever logistical problems there may have been are now ironed out, and it is full-speed ahead for the Alexandria, Virginia, firm. The sales floor has been rearranged to provide greatly improved sight lines, and virtually every seat on the floor now has an unobstructed view of both the podium and the large television display on which the lots are presented. The buffering problems that had slowed the advancing of images at the March sale had been solved, and the on-line bidding computers retained their connections throughout the sale. The building’s ancillary storage and display area was accessible, which added to the display area and to a feeling of openness. In short, Potomack’s new space seems to be working out very well.

The sale led with Potomack’s customary array of Asian items. There were fewer lots in the category at this sale than has been the case in other sales, but the quality of the consignments appeared to hold up. One of the sale’s most hotly contested lots came from the Asian items. Although we usually think of Chinese items as leaders in this category, the fireworks involved a piece of Korean artwork. After a spirited exchange involving several bidders, a ten-panel Korean screen, estimated at $2000/3000, sold to the phone for $26,437.50 (includes buyer’s premium). The underbidder in the room, a Korean-American collector, stated that the screen was an exceptional example of storyteller art. He further stated that in his 40 years of collecting, he has seen interest in Korean items steadily increase, while the number of quality pieces coming to market is rapidly decreasing. He saved his money to bid another day.

One group of items was different from the usual selection of consignments. A dozen lots of ancient Egyptian artifacts were consigned from the family of Judge Elbert Eli Farman (1831-1911). Judge Farman was the U.S. consul general to Egypt in the 1870’s. He was presented with gifts in recognition of his efforts to maintain the United States as a neutral party during the period of power struggles among European nations for influence over Egypt. The most recognizable of the gifts associated with Judge Farman’s efforts is the 69' tall red granite obelisk known as Cleopatra’s Needle that stands in New York’s Central Park. The artifacts that Judge Farman had received as personal gifts were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 20th century. The items offered at the Potomack sale had remained in Farman’s family. All of the Farman lots were from the Ptolemaic Hellenistic period (305-30 B.C.), the final period of Egyptian history before its occupation by the Roman Empire. Several of the Farman lots are described in the photo section.

James Tassie (Scottish, 1735-1799) was an artist, engraver, modeler, and collector. He is best known for his carved miniature portraits, medallions, and miniature “gems.” Tassie is credited with developing the glasslike enamel paste from which the pieces were created. Potomack offered 20 lots consisting of examples from the artist himself, as well as pieces created in the manner of Tassie. The first lot of the group was a two-volume copy of Rudolf Erich Raspe’s 1791 catalog of Tassie’s work. It sold in the middle of its estimate at $763.75. Most of the Tassie material sold in lots consisting of one or as many as a dozen pieces. There were two very large lots, one comprising 294 tiny cameo gems, and the other, 200 similar pieces. Those two lots were estimated from $400 to 700 but brought $4700 and $2115 respectively.

Another high-volume group of lots came from the Parian ware collection of a Maryland estate. The group consisted of more than 50 lots of the marble-like porcelain. The pieces were from familiar fine porcelain manufacturers, including Bennington, Royal Worcester, Minton, Wedgwood, and Copeland. Most of the Parian lots sold solidly within their estimates, with the high lot being a 22¾" high standing figure of Venus, circa 1850, that sold for $822.50 (est. $300/500).

The high lot of the sale came from a category of one. A marble Roman bust from the first century brought $55,812.50 (est. $40,000/60,000). The piece is shown and described in the accompanying photographs.

Within the furniture category, the more formal and Continental styles were strong, while American case pieces continued to lag. A Baroque walnut and walnut veneer secretary bookcase with mirror brought $3525; a Regency mahogany tall hall table brought $1116.25; an 18th-century Italian inlaid walnut fall-front desk made $4112.50; and a Napoleon III ebonized lady’s desk with stone, gilt, and ormolu decoration brought $1997.50. All sold above their high estimates.

For additional information, contact The Potomack Company at (703)-684-4550 or visit the Web site (

This George III covered oval silver tureen is by London silversmith Napthali Hart and displays a date mark for 1809. The piece rests on paw-and-ball feet surmounted with a double shell design. The handles are decorated with the head of Bacchus at each terminus. The cover is decorated with an owl-form finial. There are two monograms on the piece. One is a crowned “M,” and the other is one of the versions of the family crest for Simpson. The tureen measures 12" x 16" x 11" with its cover in place. The tureen sold to the phone for $11,162.50 (est. $4000/6000).

This small 19th-century English pine chest is the stuff of auctioneers’ dreams. Three people wanted it badly. The chest features a two-over-three drawer configuration. Perhaps it was hotly contested because of its desirable diminutive size at only 25" x 28½" x 13½". The rectangular top has a molded edge, and all of the drawers have cockbeading. The case is raised on bracket feet. The chest does have some bumps, stains, and mismatched hardware. The bidders pushed the little chest to $1527.50 (est. $200/400), selling to the phone.

Here is a Mission oak Morris chair from L. & J. G. Stickley. The classic Arts and Crafts style features a three-position adjustable back, wide flat arms, and straight square legs. The chair has been fitted with a leather back and seat cushions and brought $1762.50 (est. $700/900).

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

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