Sotheby’s, New York City
Photos courtesy Sotheby’s
American furniture and paintings from the collection of the late E. Newbold and Margaret “Peggy” du Pont Smith, which sold at Sotheby’s on Saturday afternoon, January 21, had been assembled over two generations. Peggy Smith’s mother, Margaret W. Lewis du Pont, left some of her furniture to her daughter, who added to the collection over the years. Sometimes Peggy Smith bought at auction, but more often she bought at the Philadelphia Antiques Show, which she cochaired in 1977 and 1978 and served as chair of the advisory committee the following decade. Newbold Smith graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was a star football player and wrestler. A lifelong sailor who owned a fine racing yacht, he collected marine paintings.
The Smiths’ miniature Chester County William and Mary walnut flat-top high chest was the most coveted lot of Americana Week. There was spirited bidding for this small valuables chest, sometimes called a spice chest, with competition on phones and in the salesroom from the trade and from private collectors. Leigh Keno, sitting between collectors Marjorie and John McGraw, was the winner, paying $612,500 (with the buyer’s premium) for the chest, estimated at $80,000/120,000.
There was a lot of bidding for this 24¾" x 14¼" x 9¾" William and Mary turned and joined walnut flat-top chest of drawers with paneled sides, Chester County, Pennsylvania, circa 1725, used as a valuables cabinet, with a rich historic surface and original cast brass hardware. It was announced from the podium that the lower drawer had been rebuilt in the 18th century. It sold in the salesroom for $612,500 (est. $80,000/120,000) to Leigh Keno, who was sitting between collectors John and Marjorie McGraw.
At the sale of the Garbisch collection on May 23, 1980, it had sold for $33,000, when a more common form of Chester County spice box on frame sold for $23,000.
The price was an auction record for a miniature high chest, even though it was announced from the podium that the bottom drawer had been rebuilt, probably in the 18th century. This continued the trend that if a piece is rare and has a presence, minor repairs do not matter. Fresh to market, it had not been seen publicly since 1999, when it was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the exhibition Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania 1680-1758. When Peggy Smith bought it for $33,000 in May 1980 at the Sotheby Parke Bernet sale of the collection of Colonel Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch (held at Pokety, the Garbisch estate on Maryland’s Eastern Shore), she thought she had overpaid. The price was $10,000 more than the price of an eagle-inlaid spice chest on stand that sold at the same sale for $23,000. The new record price of $612,500 for a miniature Pennsylvania high chest tops $288,000 paid for a Philadelphia walnut miniature high chest with Spanish feet, circa 1740, that had sold at sale of the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Jeffords at Sotheby’s in 2004. A valuables box on a stand in the form of a William and Mary high chest on stand, illustrated in the Chipstone Foundation’s American Furniture 2015 (p. 21, along with another similar one at Chipstone, both possibly from the John Widdifield shop in Philadelphia), sold at Pook & Pook in January 2012 for $112,575. (The chest at Pook & Pook also had some minor drawer problems; the bottom and top drawers are early replacements, and the period pulls have new wires. It lacks a secret drawer behind the center drawer, and the center raw bottom is a replacement.)
Other Chester County spice chests at the Smith sale brought more than estimated. One with an inlaid door sold for $50,000 (est. $15,000/30,000). Another one, with the initials “SL” and the date 1746 and extra secret drawers behind a removable back panel, sold for $43,750 (est. $15,000/25,000).
The catalog states: “Marked SL / 1746, this rare box with a false back panel and secret compartment probably stored medicinal spices in the front and jewelry in the back. A decorative household furnishing and an important one for the housekeeper, who kept the keys to such a treasure-trove box on her chatelaine, this box probably went along on family trips or seasonal moves between the town house and country plantation.” This William and Mary inlaid walnut box, Chester County, Pennsylvania, has a panel inlaid with the initials “SL” and the date 1746. With an Israel Sack provenance, the 20" x 16" x 11" box sold on the phone for $43,750 (est. $15,000/25,000).
The star of the sale was the Smiths’ Philadelphia tall-case clock with works by Peter Stretch and the engraved motto “Tempus Rerus Imperator” (reminding the owner that time is “commander of all things”) in a cherrywood case by John Head, circa 1740. Most clock cases by Head are walnut, a nicely workable wood. This one in a more expensive cherry case sold to advisor Luke Beckerdite in the salesroom for $348,500 (est. $150,000/300,000). It was the second item by John Head sold at Sotheby’s during Americana Week, and it made a record price for any piece by Head. The identification history of John Head was not known when the Smith or Parker collections were formed. (See the March issue of M.A.D., p. 32-E, for coverage of the sale of the collection of George S. Parker II.)
This cherrywood tall-case clock is an extremely rare Queen Anne clock with works by Peter Stretch of Philadelphia and its case attributed to John Head of Philadelphia. It sold for $348,500 (est. $150,000/300,000) to Virginia consultant Luke Beckerdite. It is illustrated in Stretch: America’s First Family of Clockmakers by Donald L. Fennimore and Frank L. Hohmann III (2013), no. 56, pp. 232-33. While Stretch routinely signed his clockworks, Head did not sign his cases. In his online writing (found at In Proportion to the Trouble) Christopher Storb, who is a furniture conservator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, writes about this clock: “While not a record for an American tall-case clock—that belongs to another Peter Stretch clock in a carved mahogany case purchased by the Winterthur Museum in 2004 for $1,688,000—it is a record price for any furniture documented or attributed to the workshop of John Head.” Storb writes that this clock and case represents the most expensive version of the John Head and Peter Stretch collaboration, because Head charged £5-0-0 for clock cases with arched hoods in woods other than walnut—the most he charged for any clock case—and Stretch charged £15-0-0 for arch-dial clock movements, for a total of £20-0-0 for the combined clock and case. Storb also suggests that the moon dial seen on this clock was produced in the years 1725-35 and that John Head debited Peter Stretch for cherry clock cases in 1732 and 1737, so the 1750 date in the catalog may be late. Storb writes that he does not know if the pierced name boss with the maker’s name and location surrounded by engraved foliate scrolls, a pair of birds in flight, and the motto “Tempus Rerum Imperator” (Time, Commander of All Things) added to the £15 price Stretch charged for arch-dial clocks. He also suggests that the clock once had turned feet. His evidence is holes bored in the base.
This circa 1770 Philadelphia Chippendale mahogany double-peak camelback sofa, 40¾" x 94¼" x 35", sold for $212,500 (est. $250,000/500,000) to collector Steve Smith in the salesroom. A combined effort of a cabinetmaker and upholsterer, the camelback form is listed as “Soffas Marlborough Feet” in the 1772 and 1786 Philadelphia price list, with the additional refinement of “bases” terminating the feet. The frame with “plain feet & rails without Casters” would have cost £4.10 in mahogany, with the upholstery adding as much as £10 to £20 to the cost. Equal in price to a desk/bookcase, sofas of this type were extremely costly and not common in Philadelphia, even among affluent families. A similar sofa, not shown, 40" x 97¼" x 32½", with a Joe Kindig provenance and with a replaced central stretcher and replaced blocking on its feet and a less dramatic sweep to the arms, failed to sell (est. $40,000/60,000).
The Smiths’ large (94½" long) double-peak camelback sofa with its dramatic swept-back arms is one of the finest of all surviving Philadelphia sofas, and its Marlborough legs are intact. It sold to a discerning collector in the salesroom for $212,500 (est. $250,000/500,000). A less dramatic, somewhat smaller matching sofa with its central stretcher and blocking on its feet replaced failed to sell.
Museums did some buying this January. At the Smith sale Alexandra Kirtley, curator of American furniture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, spent $137,500 (est. $100,000/200,000) for a Queen Anne mahogany tray-top tea table with scrolls flanking its carved knees and candle slides, made in Boston circa 1755. Peggy Smith had inherited it from her mother.
The big disappointment at the Smith sale was the failure of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians by Edward Hicks. Estimated at $800,000/1,200,000, it stirred no interest, perhaps because of its condition. It had been found rolled up and was extensively restored before it sold at Christie’s in January 1993 for $671,000 (est. $500,000/700,000). It is a good subject, an appealing composition, and captioned on the canvas “PENN’S Treaty with the INDIANS, made 1681 with / out an Oath, and never broken. The foundation of / Religious and Civil Liberty in the U.S. of America.”Hicks more often titled his paintings on the frames.
Several marine paintings sold over or toward high estimates. James Buttersworth’s Racing in New York Harbor (Fetching the Mark), painted circa 1875, sold for $300,000 (est. $250,000/350,000) to an absentee bidder. New York City dealer W. Graham Arader, standing at the back of the salesroom, paid $225,000 for Battle at the Palisades, New York by Dominic Serres. Arader said he had wanted it when Newbold Smith bought it at Sotheby’s in London in 1995, when it sold for £67,500. “It shows the exact spot of the George Washington Bridge,” said Arader, who was clearly pleased with his purchase. Serres painted His Majesty’s ships Phoenix, Roebuck, and Tartar, accompanied by three smaller vessels, forcing their way through the cheval-de-frise on the Hudson River between Forts Washington and Lee, New York, on October 9, 1776.
Racing in New York Harbor (Fetching the Mark) by James Edward Buttersworth (1817-1894) is signed “J. E. Buttersworth” (lower right). The 24" x 32" oil on canvas, circa 1875, sold for $300,000 (est. $250,000/350,000) to an absentee bidder.
The sale of 82 of the 89 lots brought a total of $3,386,188 (92.1% sold by lot).The pictures and captions tell more. For a priced catalog, see (www.sothebys.com) and look for auction results or call the department at (212) 606-7130.
This rare circa 1770 Pennsylvania Windsor walnut dish-top table, 26" x 17¼" x 17", sold for $18,750 (est. $3000/5000) in the salesroom to Pennsylvania collector Steve Smith, underbid by another collector on the phone with Erik Gronning.
Dominic Serres, R.A. (1722-1793) was commissioned by a participant of the Battle of the Palisades, New York, to paint this 25" x 47 7/8" scene of the 1776 battle. Serres did so in 1779. It shows His Majesty’s ships Phoenix, Roebuck, and Tartar, accompanied by three smaller vessels, forcing their way through the cheval-de-frise on the Hudson River between Forts Washington and Lee on October 9, 1776. The painting is signed “D. Serres” and dated 1779 (lower left). It is also inscribed “His Majesty’s Ships / 40 guns / the ‘Roebuck’ 40 guns /the Tartar 28... guns / passing Fort Washington / going up the Hudson River / to prevent the Americans / throwing supplies into / the fort. Oct 1776 / Robert Barlow /...one of officers / of Tartar /...R Barlow” on the frame. The painting sold for $225,000 (est. $100,000/150,000) to New York City dealer W. Graham Arader in the salesroom. Arader said he had missed the sale by a day and regretted not buying it in 1995 when Newbold Smith bought it at Sotheby’s in London for £67,500. According to the catalog, after it was commissioned by Robert Barlow, it descended in his family until acquired by Newbold Smith. Early during the Revolutionary War in 1776, General Howe ordered a small squadron of British warships, under the command of Captain Hyde Parker, to occupy the Hudson River. Despite heavy bombardment from Fort Washington on the right and Fort Lee atop the New Jersey Palisades, Captain Parker and his fleet passed through, and he was knighted for his heroic efforts in 1779.
The Bunting family Chippendale carved and figured mahogany piecrust tilt-top tea table, Philadelphia, circa 1770, bears on its top’s underside an old label with the following ink inscription: “Property of Estate of Susanna / Lloyd Bunting. Fine example / of Chippendale cabinet ware / obtained by appraisement from / home of G-- Ann Bunting / by her nephew, Saml Bunting.” The 28¼" x 35 7/8" x 35¼" table with an Israel Sack provenance sold for $106,250 (est. $40,000/60,000) to Skip Chalfant of H.L Chalfant, West Chester, Pennsylvania, who said he thought it was his best buy of the week. The catalog noted, “Philadelphia Rococo tilt-top tea tables of this quality with a piecrust top, a carved standard, and claw feet are among the greatest achievements of American furniture design. The 1786 Philadelphia book of prices indicates that the form was a significant expense, costing £5-15-0 for a mahogany table like this one with a ‘Scollop’d Top & Carv’d Pillar’ and ‘claw feet.’ Fluting the pillar added an additional five shillings to the cost.” The carving on the knees is attributed to the Garvan carver. It was refinished, has minor edge repairs, was formerly fitted with casters, and has a later Y brace.
Miniature furniture sold well. This circa 1790 New England Chippendale mahogany child’s armchair, 23" high, sold for $6875 (est. $300/500). In two immediately subsequent lots sold (not shown) a miniature slant-lid William and Mary desk, 22½" x 20¼" x 12¾", made in New England, brought $8125 (est. $2000/3000), and a William and Mary miniature walnut chest, made in Pennsylvania circa 1725, sold on the phone for $27,500 (est. $8000/12,000).
Golden Rays on the Labrador Coast by William Bradford (1823-1892), signed “W Bradford” and dated 1863 (lower right), is a luminous 28" x 44" oil on canvas that sold for $106,250 (est. $80,000/120,000).
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest