Coping with an Antiques Paradigm Shift

June 14th, 2013


Landschaft mit Vulkan (Landscape with Volcano), 30¼" x 28½", by Franz Sedlacek (Austrian, 1891-1945) sold for $188,800. It was the sale’s top-dollar painting. In 1927, the year he painted Landschaft, Sedlacek joined the Viennese Secession, a group generally opposed to academic art. He also worked in the New Objectivity style, an anti-romantic movement.

Art by local talent such as Maud Gatewood (1934-2004) was on display during the Friday night modern and contemporary sale. Gatewood, from Caswell County, North Carolina, studied with Oskar Kokoschka (Austrian, 1886-1980) and taught at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte until 1973. Prickly Pear, a signed and dated (1997) 14½" x 17½" acrylic on canvas, sold to a floor bidder for $6490 (est. $800/1200).

The sale’s top-dollar lot was a 12" Chinese carved celadon and russet jade boulder with a figure of an ancient sage, mounted on a fitted rosewood stand. A poem is carved to the left of the figure, and there is a gnarled tree on his right. It sold for $236,000 to a collector in China bidding on the Internet.

The top silver lot was 72 pieces of Tiffany & Co. sterling silver flatware in the Audubon pattern. None were monogrammed. Two phone bidders chased the set to $11,800.

Jeff Stephenson traveled from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, to buy Claude Howell’s 18¾" x 13" watercolor on paper Corner Café. Stephenson has three other paintings by Claude Howell (1915-1997). Mostly self-taught, Howell painted what he knew—the beach scenes of Wilmington, North Carolina. Stephenson had some pretty stiff competition from the phones. He had intended to spend $3000 but was pushed to part with $8555 (est. $1000/3000).

Pictured is the 1 3/8" carved jade and diamond pendant that created one of the most fascinating come-from-behind moments of the sale. Estimated at $200/400, it opened at $800 and sold for $16,520.

Inside the abalone shell is a hand-painted religious scene, but it is the elaborate carved frame with rocaille (stylized shell-like decorations), flowers, and naturalistic branches that created such a stunning piece. Overall dimensions are 18½" x 17". It sold for $25,960 (est. $2000/4000).

The Internet was especially active in this sale. It won this 19th-century cigar-store Indian maiden on a log base from competitors on the phone and by absentees. She is attributed to the shop of Samuel A. Robb (1851- 1928), New York. The 75" figure with a worn polychrome surface brought $10,325 (est. $1000/2000).

Leland Little Auction & Estate Sales Ltd., Hillsborough, North Carolina

Photos courtesy Leland Little Auction & Estate Sales

“Collectors have changed,” said Pam Briggs, couture and porcelain director at Leland Little Auction & Estate Sales. They are less interested in anything from the 18th and 19th centuries and more attuned to the late 20th century, contemporary art, and local talent, she explained. To adapt, Leland Little and his team crafted a Friday night double whammy—free gourmet food during preview followed by a short approximately 200-lot modern and contemporary sale. Bidders were in by 5 p.m. and out by 8 p.m.

The plan drew 150 potential bidders on June 14. They supped on sliders, shrimp, brie, cupcakes, and wine before and during the sale. Relaxed and happy, the Friday-night buyers sent only one lot to the three-day sale’s top ten.  A signed and dated (1966) George Nakashima cherry sideboard went to a non-dinner guest on the phone for $11,800 (includes buyer’s premium).

The larger, longer, and more traditional antiques sale on Saturday, June 15, created much more revenue, interest, and excitement. But the Friday night modern and contemporary sale is a permanent feature of the gallery’s quarterly catalog sales. The Hillsborough team is preparing for the day when Modernism and mid-century modern may become traditional.

On the phone before the sale, Little said that he believes in “humble estimates.” His presale estimates tend to be low to encourage bidders to jump in early hoping to snag a bargain. As excitement builds, top quality lots will keep increasing.

The technique worked as planned with the sale’s top lot. The late 19th-century Chinese carved jade boulder had a figure of an enlightened being, nestled in a cave. The detailed carving was supported by a custom-fitted rosewood stand. The $500/1000 estimate drew in bidders, but that level was quickly surpassed as two floor bidders helped elevate the sculpture past its first $100,000. It sold to a dealer in Asian artifacts for $236,000. “From bids on our on-line database, we had a sense that it would do well,” said Little after the sale. “We were expecting $40,000 to $80,000.”

Humility worked again on lot 458, an Italian painted shell within a rococo gilt frame. At $2000/4000, the estimate was on the high side of humble. Little started the bidding at $500, first with $100 increments, then $250, and finally $1000. Two phone bidders were locked in a struggle for the elaborately decorated 18th-century ­abalone shell. It finally sold for $25,960.

The two-day sale was heavy with paintings (194 lots) and jewelry (131 lots). It was not surprising to find that the two categories placed six lots in the sale’s top ten: three paintings, a ring, a necklace, and a pendant.

The sale’s second-highest lot was expected to do well. Landschaft mit Vulkan (Landscape with Volcano) by Franz Sedlacek (Austrian, 1891-1945), a signed and dated (1927) oil on wood, carried a presale estimate of $10,000/20,000. When it opened at $5000, staff members were connected to 12 highly motivated phone bidders. Bidding increments were a hefty $5000. Landschaft sold to the phones for $188,800.

The cover of the sale’s catalog was a detail from an untitled and undated mixed media painting by José Gurvich. Like the Sedlacek, it was estimated at $10,000/20,000. Phone bidders were so anxious that they often voiced their bids simultaneously. The painting brought $30,680. Gurvich (1927-1974) was born Zusmanas Gurvicius in Lithuania. He immigrated with his family to Uruguay in 1932 and later to Israel and New York City. He died at 47 at what some believe was the peak of his career.

Each of the sale’s nine Chinese scroll paintings was estimated at $100/300. Their selling prices ranged from $59 to $14,160. The top-dollar scroll was from the early 20th century, signed and in the Lingnan school style.

The sale’s top jewelry lot was a dazzler! In the center of the Art Deco platinum and diamond ring was a large apple green jadeite jade cabochon. Thirty-six full-cut diamonds surrounded the stone. The ring opened at $5000 on a $4000/8000 estimate. A phone bidder bought it for $19,470.

The same bidder returned to capture one of the sale’s best surprises. A carved jade and diamond pendant, measuring just a fraction less than 1½", was estimated at $200/400. Little opened the bidding at $800 with four staff members standing, ears pressed to their phones. At $6000, all four were still standing. None sat down at $8000, $9000, or $10,000. Three were standing at $12,000. Only one bidder’s staff member remained at $16,520.

Only the Internet stayed out of the fight for a platinum, diamond, and gem necklace attributed to Asheville, North Carolina-born jewelry designer David Webb (1925-1975). Phones, the floor, and absentees piled on. Gems on the 22" necklace were emeralds and rubies. A phone bidder prevailed at $12,980.

Thursday night, June 13, was devoted to 414 lots of fine wine. Fine wine director Mark Solomon took this reporter on a tour of the wine cellar, a room filled with bottles of reds and whites cooled to 55 degrees. “The biggest enemy of fine wine is heat,” said Solomon. Before he accepts wine from a large collection, he insists on tasting it. “Clients ask if I tasted it before they buy,” he added.

The night’s top lots were two six-bottle lots of Château Petrus, vintage 1970. The vineyard is in Pomerol, a commune in southwestern France near Bordeaux. A wine dealer from California bought both lots for a total of $14,160. Each lot was estimated at $7000/9000. At the hammer price, that was $1000 a bottle. Solomon offered complimentary glasses of a 1996 Château Rauzan-Ségla from the Margaux region of France to attendees at the Thursday sale.

Modernism and contemporary arts were not confined to Friday night. Midway through the Saturday sale were 14 lots of dresses, jewelry, and handbags by Chanel. The earliest item, a red silk day dress dating from the 1970’s, brought $118. The top-dollar handbag was a caviar leather satchel bag from fall 2007 that brought $1062. For Chanel jewelry, the top lot was a glass Maltese cross with oval and pearl-shaped poured glass in the style pioneered by Chanel and Madame Gripoix in the 1920’s. Created for the spring of 1994, it sold to a phone bidder for $1121.

Leland Little and Luke Newbold called the entire sale. Both proceeded from lot to lot without taking a breath. The combination of auctioneer enthusiasm and lightning fast delivery created an intriguing cognitive phenomenon. I consistently found myself overestimating how much time had elapsed. When I stopped to count the house (210), I assumed it was noon. No, it was 10:30 a.m., a scant 90 minutes after the sale had begun. At 2 p.m., I thought it had to be 4 p.m. Maybe we focus on the number of lots that cross the block and not how quickly they sell to gauge the passage of time.

This was the tenth consecutive seven-digit quarterly sale for Little. The hammer total for the entire three-day sale was over $1 million.

For more information about future sales, please contact Leland Little Auction and Estate Sales at (919) 644-1243 or visit the Web site (

This Art Deco ring finished at the front of a long line of jewelry lots. Thirty-six full-cut diamonds surround a large jadeite jade central cabochon in a platinum mounting. A recent report stated that the striking apple green jade is a natural color. The size 6.25 ring sold to the phones for $19,470 (est. $4000/8000).

The last 108 lots in the sale were Asian artifacts ranging from screens and pottery to sword tsuba and woodblock prints. This 97½" x 24" scroll was the top-dollar Asian painting. It sold for $14,160 (est. $100/300).

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

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