Purchase Story

57th Annual Thanksgiving Americana Auction

Garth’s Auctions, Delaware, Ohio

Photos courtesy Garth’s Auctions

Having an obscure subject matter on top of a bizarre medium, a painting that sold halfway through the 57th Thanksgiving Americana auction held by Garth’s Auctions in Delaware, Ohio, on November 24 offered an interesting analogy of the day itself.

Pennsylvania painting of a man and woman watching a comet from atop a brick Federal building, attributed to a Mr. Harlan, third quarter of the 19th century, painted on the underside of a pine lid to a toolbox, 28" x 44½" framed, age split, paint loss, small stain, $3875 (est. $3000/6000).

The scene depicted a man and woman watching a comet from the flat roof of a three-story brick building. From the third quarter of the 19th century, the painting was attributed to a Mr. Harlan, who was residing in Pennsylvania at the time.

The 1858 date on the building’s cupola corresponds with Donati’s Comet, named after Giovanni Battista Donati, the Italian astronomer who first observed the streaking ball of ice and dust in June 1858. The second-brightest comet of the 19th century, it became visible to the naked eye that August, and by October it had gained prominence for its intensity and curved tail.

Queen Anne porringer-top tea table, Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1760, mahogany, 25½" high x 33½" wide x 22¼" deep, the top an early replacement with additional screw holes and a glued lengthwise split, refinished, $7200 (est. $6000/12,000).

Queen Anne card table attributed to Benjamin Frothingham, Charlestown, Massachusetts, circa 1745, mahogany, fully fitted interior with a baize-covered surface, blocked and shaped apron with central drawer, 28" high x 31" wide x 16" deep (closed), sun fading to the top, minor imperfections, old refinishing, $15,600 (est. $12,000/18,000).

Paintings of any comet are rare enough, but what added a strange twist to this piece of artwork was the medium chosen—the underside of a toolbox lid. Harlan, it turns out, was a carpenter.

After leaving Pennsylvania, the would-be artist settled in Richmond, Iowa, around 1870. According to Garth’s, the toolbox was sold in 1979 at a farm estate auction. The lid was eventually removed and placed in a green-painted frame. When offered by Garth’s during the Thanksgiving sale, the painting realized $3875 (includes buyer’s premium).

The work was far from the highest-selling item in the auction, yet it had something in common with those top lots: character and quality. Simply put, there was a “wow” factor that kept bid paddles in the air.

Chippendale blockfront chest-on-chest, Boston or Salem, Massachusetts, circa 1765, mahogany, the swan’s-neck pediment with carved rosettes flanking a flame finial, fan-carved upper drawer, 85½" high x 41½" wide, original brasses, some losses and repairs, age splits to bonnet, possible replacements to sides of crown, $48,000 (est. $40,000/80,000).

Highlighting the auction were multiple pieces of furniture. While past sales, especially those on Thanksgiving weekend, have often been headlined by country items in original paint, the furniture this time around was brown and formal, led by a Massachusetts Chippendale blockfront chest-on-chest that sold for $48,000. Originating in Boston or Salem circa 1765, the chest was mahogany with a swan’s-neck pediment, carved rosettes, and a fan on the uppermost drawer.

Queen Anne bonnet-top highboy, New London County, Connecticut, circa 1760, maple, the broken-arch pediment with carved pinwheels, a thistle, and twist finials, two drawers with carved shells, 86" high x 40" wide, original brasses, repair to a break in a rear leg, replaced finials, pieced repair, age splits, other imperfections, highly refinished, $31,200 (est. $25,000/35,000).

Jeff Jeffers, Garth’s CEO and principal auctioneer, noted the scarcity of the piece. “A formal blockfronted chest-on-chest might be the second- or third-most scarce form of American furniture,” he said.

It wasn’t, however, the only piece of brown furniture to realize a five-figure price. The list was lengthy and included a Connecticut Queen Anne highboy at $31,200; Rhode Island Queen Anne highboys, $21,600 and $19,200; an American Queen Anne card table, $15,600; a Boston Queen Anne dressing table, $10,200; and a Massachusetts Queen Anne tea table, $10,200. Add to that a New York Federal tall-case clock that brought $16,250.

The mix and prices mocked the notion that brown furniture is somehow second-rate. “Bidders recognized that these were sevens and eights and eight-and-a-halfs,” said Jeffers. “It illustrated that in all of these categories, form is the key factor that drives price—form and origin. These weren’t two-thousand-dollar high chests. These weren’t lackluster.”

Not that it was all brown furniture. Americana saw steady interest, including a Kentucky flintlock rifle by Christian Beck Jr. (Pennsylvania, 1750-1806), late 18th century, having a tiger maple full stock with an octagonal barrel signed “C. Beck.” The rifle was elaborately decorated with relief carvings, an engraved brass patch box with a prominent eagle design, and 20 silver inlays that included hearts and an eagle-motif medallion. The piece sold for $10,200. Not far off that price was a Kentucky flintlock rifle attributed to Wolfgang Haga (Berks County, Pennsylvania), circa 1800, also in a tiger maple full stock with an octagonal barrel, that sold for $9720. Jeffers said the prices were in line with the quality of the rifles. “Great ones don’t come out as much as they used to,” he added.

Related items included a powder horn dated 1844 and engraved by Timothy Tansel, Ohio or Indiana origin, that sold for $3900.The artwork depicted a shield-breasted eagle on one side, while the other was bursting with action, depicting an Indian preparing to shoot an arrow at a deer being chased by a dog.

Canada goose decoy by Frank Resop (1875-1953) of Berlin, Wisconsin, rare form, original paint and glass eyes, salmon/red ground showing through some flaking, 20" long, $9000 (est. $10,000/15,000).

Among the best wood carvings in the sale was a Canada goose decoy by Frank Resop (1875-1953) of Berlin, Wisconsin, having original paint and glass eyes, which sold at $9000. The catalog noted that it was one of two or three known. “The condition was fabulous,” Jeffers added.

Smaller carvings included songbirds by Anthony Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) of East Harwich, Massachusetts, led by a painted bunting that sold for $2000, a tree swallow at $1200, and a wood thrush and a scarlet tanager at $1080 each.

Folk art came in a variety of other forms, including a double-sided wooden sign lettered “J. Bagg’s Tavern,” each side with a different design of a shield-breasted eagle, that sold for $7500. Dating to the late 18th century, the sign was found in central Maine. Of a more recent nature was an early 20th-century folk art painting of two African American children standing on a porch and holding an oversize slice of watermelon. The children were portrayed with exaggerated features, while the work also included a skunk pelt, sunflowers, a cat at rest, and an alligator all but hidden under the floorboards. The painting sold for $5520.

J. Bagg’s Tavern sign, American, late 18th century, pine, each side with a shield-breasted eagle having an “E Pluribus Unum” banner in its beak, this side with a red ground and some overpaint, the other side with a different design in early repaint with some original red showing through, 30" x 46¼" plus hardware, evidence of earlier tavern signs under the current paint on both sides, wear and loss, $7500 (est. $4000/8000).

Jeffers said a number of factors boosted the desirability of the piece. “It’s a very whimsical, cultural snapshot of a stereotype for a collectible field and in marvelous condition, and it had that cartoonish nature which makes great folk painting,” he said.

One of the more understated items to see strong bidding was a pewter tankard with a touchmark for Francis Bassett II, New York City/New Jersey, 1749-83. It sold for $6900. The piece had originally been purchased for next to nothing in a box lot of 19th-century English measures and other bric-a-brac at an Illinois auction. At the time, the touchmark went unnoticed. The buyer offered it without noting the maker on eBay, where it went unsold. Finally, the piece was consigned to Garth’s, where a cataloger with 35 years of experience was able to identify the maker, which made all the difference. The exuberant bidding was an indication that while pewter prices have declined in recent years, certain pieces are still highly desirable.

Blown glass bottle in light olive green with 24 swirled ribs, Zanesville, Ohio, second quarter of the 19th century, 8" high, wear on the ribs, small blisters and potstones, other minor roughness, $4080 (est. $250/500).

Massachusetts Queen Anne tea table, circa 1740, cherry, 26½" high x 26½" wide x 19" deep, old finish, pieced repair to one foot, split to tray top, $10,200 (est. $10,000/15,000).

Federal tall-case clock, New York, circa 1795, inlaid mahogany and flame mahogany, hand-painted floral dial with moon phases, marked “Effingham Embree, New York,” 7'9" high x 20½" wide x 10½" deep, minor veneer damage, age split in bonnet, some replacements and minor imperfections, $16,250 (est. $10,000/20,000). The catalog noted, “Effingham (Effington) Embree was one of the premier New York clockmakers. He began working in partnership with Thomas Pearsall, his father-in-law. His name without Pearsall appears in the New York directory of 1794. Other clocks made by him are in the collections of The Museum of the City of New York and the White House.”

Although the auction consisted of material from multiple consignors, the estates of three parties—the late Dr. Robert W. and Juanita Le Vere of Wooster, Ohio; Phyllis and the late William Kraner of Columbus, Ohio; and the late Jay Jeschke of Chicago—played prominent roles. “The three larger consignors had no overlap,” Jeffers said. Items as varied as furniture, decoys, and fraktur came from different parties yet complemented each other. “They all had marvelous material all put together. It was one of those homecomings we like to have at Garth’s the day after Thanksgiving.”

For more information, phone Garth’s at (740) 362-4771 or visit (www.garths.com).

Queen Anne highboy attributed to Christopher Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1745, mahogany, 68¼" high x 38" wide, veneer repair to base, spliced repairs and minor losses to drawers, drop and brasses replaced, beading and right legs repaired, $21,600 (est. $20,000/30,000). The catalog noted, “The use of removable legs is typical of Newport work, and was done to make it easier to ship, as many of Newport’s pieces were sold to people who lived outside the small city.”

Queen Anne highboy, possibly by Abram Utter of Hopkinton, Rhode Island, circa 1725, tiger maple, 63¾" high x 40¼" wide x 20½" deep, minor pieced repairs, replaced brasses, glued repair to cornice, missing and replaced beading, other imperfections, $19,200 (est. $12,000/18,000). The catalog noted, “An oral history relates that this high chest was part of the furnishings of the Thurston Mansion and Stor (1769), the home Edwin R. Allen (1840-) of Hopkinton, Rhode Island, who was the lieutenant governor of Rhode Island. On the back of the lower central drawer is written in pencil ‘Mrs. Edwin R. Allen.’”

Originally published in the March 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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