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Wall Art Tops Vocal Art at Saco River

Mark Sisco | November 23rd, 2013

Two early wax cylinder Edison recordings by the black singing group Unique Quartette sold for $2070 and $1265. Saco River photos.

Robert Wesley Amick (1879-1969), oil on canvas, The Rainmaker, early 1940’s, $5175.

This panoramic shoreline seascape by Caroline Melissa Nettleton Thurber sold for $16,675.

Circa 1862 tintype of Abraham Lincoln, $575.

This large Serapi room-size rug, 11'1" x 18'8" (partially shown), in ocher and dark blue, from perhaps the 1860’s, did better than expected, selling for $6900. Saco River photo.

This oil on board by Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917), 11" x 15", shows a pastoral scene of a man on horseback at sunset. It was signed lower left “A. P. Ryder” and stamped on the reverse “Cottier and Company,” indicating Ryder’s favorite framer. The heavy crackling was a typical condition of Ryder’s work, resulting from his heavy pigment and glaze use. It sold for $8625, well below the $15,000/20,000 estimate. Saco River photo.

Saco River Auction Company, Biddeford, Maine

At the Saco River Auction Company’s November 23, 2013, offering, some of the would-be headliners crashed virtually unheralded, while some items from the middle ranks rose to the top with surprisingly strong prices.

National Public Radio ran a segment on them. The Portland Press Herald and Maine Today reported on them. They were two wax cylinder Edison recordings by the early black American group called the Unique Quartette, and they were thought to be potential record-breakers. One held a song titled “Mamma’s Black Baby Boy,” recorded in 1893. The other played “Who Broke the Lock on the Henhouse Door?” from 1896. Both were said to be playable loud and clear. “Who Broke the Lock” was believed to be the only surviving example, while “Mamma’s Black Baby” was probably one of two extant. They were consigned by a Portland, Maine, collector who claimed to have over 3000 old cylinder recordings. What made them so rare and potentially valuable was that they were two of the earliest recordings known by a black vocal group. Music historian Bob Marovich, as quoted in the Portland Press Herald, noted that another black group, the Standard Quartet, made earlier cylinder recordings, but none of those are known to exist. Auctioneer Floyd Hartford started out asking for $5000 for the first one, but when that proved to be more than the market would bear, he had to settle for $2070 (with buyer’s premium) for “Who Broke the Lock” and $1265 for “Mamma’s Black Baby.” Both sold to the same phone bidder.

Pound for pound, a tiny tintype of Abraham Lincoln, barely bigger than a postage stamp, had to be a winner. It was published by Abbott around 1862. The pink cardboard on the back read “Abraham Lincoln, President of The United States.” The catalog described it as extremely rare, given that most other pieces from the series had text on the cardboard that read “Firm To Maintain And Defend The Union.” The auctioneer seemed mildly disappointed with the $575 selling price.

The auction company offered a linen shirt with the signature of George Armstrong Custer. Saco River had it sent to the Custer Battlefield Museum in Garryowen, Montana, to verify the “Capt. G. A. Custer, No. 7” signature that appeared on it just below the front closure, and the result came back positive. Founding museum director Christopher Kortlander confirmed that the signature was indeed that of George Armstrong Custer. Apparently bidders refused to buy it, literally. The auctioneers were hoping for $10,000/25,000, but there wasn’t a peep of interest at $5000.

Robert Wesley Amick (1879-1969) was born in Colorado and spent most of his artistic career as an illustrator of Western scenes that are brilliantly colored and highly realistic. A 35" x 29" oil on canvas in a Newcomb-Macklin frame was titled The Rainmaker and came with an exhibition label reading in part “PORTRAIT OF AMERICA/ Artists for Victory, Inc.” It showed a Native American man and a young boy apparently in a rain-making ritual. Artists for Victory, Inc., operating from about 1942 to 1946, was dedicated to involving contemporary artists in the Allied war effort. The painting closed at $5175.

The best part of the sale was a fine, approximately 14" x 34" panoramic seaside oil on canvas that was reminiscent of Edmund Darch Lewis. It was actually painted by the lesser-known Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., artist Caroline Melissa Nettleton Thurber (1864-1950), and was signed and dated 1896. I was able to locate only a handful of secondary market records for her but nothing close to the $16,675 this one brought. According to art consultant Peter Kostoulakos, Thurber was a member of the Copley Society of Art and the Guild of Boston Artists and has paintings in numerous private and public galleries.

For more information, visit ( or call (207) 602-1504.

This 1838 Ames artillery short sword with the original scabbard and a “WS” inspector’s mark brought $1150.

This attic-fresh flintlock military rifle with all parts intact, including the bayonet and the original flintlock, sold for $2300. The patch box contained some period working tools. “There were only five thousand of these made,” a Saco assistant confirmed. “You never see them with the tools like the screwdriver and the cleaning rod.”

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

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