Purchase Story

Americana at Freeman’s

Freeman’s, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Photos courtesy Freeman’s

Freeman’s marketing focuses on selling collections. “Not only does it create a historical record, it delivers a better financial result” is the pitch of the Philadelphia auction house. Over the last four years, Freeman’s has successfully offered large and small collections in separate catalogs. And when there is not enough for an entire sale, Freeman’s keeps collections together in a various-owners sale.


Two gold, enamel, and ivory mourning rings, probably England, dated 1791 and 1793, both of marquise form. The first, left, is painted with a female mourner leaning beside two covered urns atop a plinth inscribed “Rest / In / Peace” with a cherub flying overhead; the black enamel surround is inscribed “S. BLOOMFIELD WALL OB: 12 OC 1791 AE: 13 MO.”; the reverse has the engraved dedication “AP to CP”; and the band is inscribed “RACHEL WALL OB: 30 MAR 1791 AE 64.” The second, right, features a woman lamenting beside a covered urn raised on plinth inscribed “In Mem / of a / belov'd / Hus / band”; the black enamel surround is inscribed “S. A. DIED NOVEMBER 1793.” They were sold together with a mourning pin, center, depicting a woman seated beside a covered urn on a plinth, the black enamel surround inscribed, “ISABELLA. SHIELD. OB: 12 DEC: 1785. AET: 81.” All are seemingly unmarked. The rings, sizes are 5¼ and 5½, and the pin sold for $5313 (est. $1500/2500) to an active bidder on the phone with Freeman’s president Paul Roberts.

Freeman’s 436-lot Americana sale on November 15, 2017, was a collection of collections. It opened with 126 lots of mourning jewelry and paraphernalia from the Museum of Mourning at Arlington Cemetery in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, assembled by Irvin (d. 2014) and Anita (d. 2015) Schorsch. Sotheby’s had included just 26 lots from the Museum of Mourning in the $10.3 million Schorsch estate sale in January 2016. (Swelling Sotheby’s total at that sale were the last two lots: the $47,500 sale of a George Washington mourning pin with a lock of our first president’s hair, and a pearl ring with another lock of Washington’s hair that brought $30,000. An American mourning ring made by New York City silversmith Myer Myers went for $11,500, and one attributed to Thomas Edwards in Boston, dated 1747, brought $25,000. An English gold mourner’s ring, with a maker’s mark and dated “1707/08,” sold for $32,500.)


Large gold and ivory oval mourning pendant, probably England, early 19th century, painted with a veiled female mourner standing beside a covered urn bearing the initials “JM,” above which hovers a crown whose five points are each topped with a cherub’s head. The urn is raised on a plinth inscribed “ALTHO GONE YET / TO ME NOT LOST / STILL LET ME / HIS AFFLICTED CHILD. / REVERE IN DEAR/ REMEMBRANCE / MY HONOUR’D PARENT.” A stream and church are beyond. The reverse has an iridescent panel adorned with hairwork bows and a cobalt swag inscribed with a name, partially obscured, “... Mapletoft,”? and a braided hairwork surround. Seemingly unmarked, the 2 7/8 " x 2½" (sight size) pendant sold for $12,188 (est. $1500/2500) to the agent for a collector, underbid by a collector/dealer in the salesroom.

Gold and ivory mourning pin, probably American, possibly Boston, Massachusetts, dated 1794, and rare because a man is mourning at the obelisk; women mourners are more commonly depicted. Of marquise form and painted en grisaille, depicting a male mourner weeping beside an obelisk raised on a plinth, the obelisk inscribed “FI- / LIAL / PI-/ ETY,” the plinth inscribed “S.M. / SH. BARKER/ Obi / July 1794,” with a weeping willow tree above surmounted by the inscription “WEEP NOT FOR ME, BUT FOR YOURSELF,” the reverse fitted with a pin, seemingly unmarked, 2 1/8 " x 1½" (overall), it sold for $4688 to Paul Roberts on the phone with bidder 1208, a major buyer of multiple slides, mourning rings, and mourning pins.

The mourning jewelry at Freeman’s—largely unmarked examples, many of which were initialed and dated—was 100% sold. More than a dozen collectors competed in the salesroom, on the phones, and online. Four gold Stuart crystal mourning slides, each with an enameled skeleton holding an hourglass, sold with buyer’s premium for $3500, $3625, $4063, and $4063—each over its estimate and surpassing the $2000 paid for a Stuart slide with two angels at Sotheby’s 2016 Schorsch estate sale in New York City. Slides were worn on black ribbons on the wrist during mourning, according to Lynda Cain, chief of Americana at Freeman’s.

The most active bidding for 17th-century mourning jewelry was for a Stuart crystal pendant, just 1 3/8" long, with a watercolor on paper portrait of Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, with a skull over his shoulder and inscribed with the date “30 July 1700.” In fine condition, it sold for $35,000 (est. $2000/2500) on the phone, underbid by an agent for a collector in the salesroom. Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, was a nephew of King William III. He was just 11 when he died.

Three gold and enamel mourning band rings from England, dated 1803, 1807, and 1811.The first, inscribed, “ROBT. PARDOE. ESQ: OB: 10. APR: 1803: AE 69” against a black enamel ground, has a set of hallmarks, including maker's mark “PB (/R),” to the inner band; the second, inscribed, “WM VIZARD. DIED. 14. FEB: 1807. AGED. 72” against a black enamel ground, has a set of hallmarks, including maker’s mark “I.P,” to the inner band; and the third, inscribed “MARY. WHITE. DIED. 20. OCT: 1811. AGED. 83” against a black enamel ground, has set of hallmarks, including maker’s mark “MG,” to the inner band. The rings, sizes 7½, 8, and 9 3/8 , sold for $3125 (est. $800/1200) to Irvin and Anita Schorsch’s eldest son, Irvin, and his wife, sitting in the first row.

Mourning rings were in demand. A collector in the salesroom paid $4063 (est. $800/1200) for a ring set with a skull under crystal and flanked by crystal baguettes, inscribed “N. LORING O.B. 15. MAY 1765. AE. 9M.,” and thought to have been made in Boston. A phone bidder paid $4375 for a gold and enamel ring, probably English, dated 1753. Irvin Schorsch Jr. and his wife, Marilyn, sitting in the first row, bought a lot of three gold and enamel mourning band rings dated 1803,1807, and 1811 for $3125 (est. $800/1200). They were outbid by the agent for a collector in the salesroom for a gold stick pin in the form of a snake, sold together with a ring decorated with an enamel urn and willow inscribed “John Graves / OBT Augt 13 1818 / AE 36,” and a triangular school pin with the number 17, which went for a combined $3375 (est. $400/600).

Less macabre Neoclassical rings, pins, and pendants with mourning figures painted on ivory were even more popular with collectors. Two gold and enamel rings, each with marquise-shaped images of lamenting women with urns, sold on the phone for $5625 (est. $1500/2500), and two others, decorated similarly, sold as one lot for $5313 to an online bidder on Freeman’s new bidding platform. Two gold and ivory mourning rings, one with an obelisk, the other with an urn, probably English, dated 1776 and 1780, sold for $5313 to an active bidder on the phone with Freeman’s president Paul Roberts. Irvin Schorsch’s parents had bought them from Arthur Guy Kaplan, probably at the Philadelphia Antiques Show.

For $4688, a phone bidder got a gold and ivory mourning pin, possibly made in Boston, dated 1794, that showed a man beside an obelisk—notable because most figurative mourners are women. A mourning ring with a man leaning on an urn, dated 1781, went to another phone bidder for $2250.

The most expensive piece of Neoclassical mourning jewelry in the sale was a gold and ivory 19th-century oval mourning pendant, painted with a woman standing beside an urn above which hovers a crown with cherubs’ heads and including a plinth engraved with the words “ALTHO GONE YET / TO ME NOT LOST / STILL LET ME / HIS AFFLICTED CHILD. / REVERE IN DEAR / REMEMBRANCE / MY HONOUR’D PARENT,” a church, and a stream in the background; the back has hairwork bows and a cobalt swag. It sold for $12,188 (est. $1500/2500) to an agent for a collector in the salesroom. A mourning bracelet with two marquise-shaped miniatures of mourning women sold for $11,875 (est. $3000/5000) to a collector on the phone.

Four phone bidders competed for a gold, ivory, and hairwork mourning pin/pendant, likely American, which sold on the phone to a collector for $5625. The elder Schorsches bought it at the sale of the Jean and Howard Lipman collection at Sotheby’s in November 1981 for $522 in a lot with another miniature bust of a man that was cracked.

One of the 14 dining chairs (seven shown) designed by Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892) for Ericstan, a house built for John J. Herrick in Tarrytown, New York, in 1855-59, was pictured on the catalog cover. Freeman’s commissioned furniture consultant and historical upholsterer Robert F. Trent to write about the chairs in the catalog, and he pointed out that they are one of the last groups of seating designed by the architect Alexander Jackson Davis still in private hands. According to Trent, John Herrick, who ordered the chairs, enjoyed them for just a decade before he was forced to sell the house and its furnishings to Edward Maynard (1813-1891) in 1865. Maynard later sold it to Alfrederick Smith Hatch (1829-1904), in whose family the furniture descended. The 14 chairs in the sale were made about 1857 by the firm of Burns and Brother in New York City. The immense dining table was sold to the Toledo Museum of Art in the early 1980s, a rib-backed chair with deer-hoof feet is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and other chairs and tables from the house are in private collections. Eight of the chairs offered at Freeman’s were bought by a Texas collector for $81,250 (est. $50,000/80,000). A pair of armchairs went to a Florida collector for $21,250 (est. $15,000/25,000). A chair retaining an early oilcloth cover sold for $5313 (est. $5000/8000), and a pair of dining chairs sold for $2500 (est. $3000/5000). One chair with torn old leather failed to sell.

William and Mary walnut chest of drawers, Philadelphia, first half of the 18th century, case fitted with four drawers, on ball feet, 42½" x 40¼", sold in the salesroom for $12,500 (est. $1500/2500) to dealer Philip Bradley of  Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Before the sale, Christopher Storb wrote in his In Proportion of Troubleblog that the chest can be attributed to the Bartram family joiner, the same craftsman who made the spice box Freeman’s sold on December 15, 2016, for $21,250. John Head—whose account book is owned by the American Philosophical Society—was a competitor of this cabinetmaker, for whom Storb says there is no documentation. There is speculation that a James Bartram made both pieces, based on two other examples: a dressing table inlaid with the initials of his future wife, Elizabeth Maris, and an oval table inlaid with both James’s and Elizabeth’s initials with the year before their marriage, 1724. But according to Storb, there is no evidence that James Bartram, the brother of the botanist John Bartram, apprenticed to a cabinetmaker and pursued any trade other than farming. Storb believes there is another shop run by a British-trained craftsman that was the competitor of Head’s. This chest, lacking dust boards and its original hardware, is made of carefully chosen walnut, has feet and molding like the spice box, and is an important discovery. Storb hopes the buyer of the spice chest will put it on this chest. Perhaps Bradley bought it for such a purpose.

There were so many phone bidders and bidders online for mourning jewelry that auctioneer Tim Andreadis sold only 36 lots an hour. The pace did not pick up when the furniture and decorations crossed the block. There were five phone bidders and Philip Bradley bidding in the salesroom for a William and Mary walnut chest of drawers. Philadelphia furniture conservator Christopher Storb in his In Proportion to Troubleblog had alerted his readers that Freeman’s had found another piece of furniture from the same shop as the spice chest that had sold for $21,250 on December 15, 2016, in a small single-owner sale of mostly paintings. Storb attributed the spice box to an anonymous Philadelphia joiner’s shop that produced some of the most opulent furniture made in Philadelphia during the 1720s. He wrote that this chest is from the same shop, probably by a cabinetmaker who had trained in England before coming to America, but who did not leave an account book, unlike John Head, a well-documented craftsman of that period. The chest of drawers, made of walnut, has two boards on each side and well-figured drawer fronts, but it is missing its dust boards and does not have its original hardware. However, its feet and molding match those on the spice chest. In his blog, Storb suggested that the buyer of the spice chest should buy this similar chest and put the spice chest on top of it. Philip Bradley bought it for $12,500, well over its $1500/2500 estimate.

Freeman’s is known for consignments from the descendants of original owners. A portrait miniature on ivory of Revolutionary War Captain Joseph Fox (1749-1820) of the 16th Massachusetts Regiment, never out of the family, sold for $32,500 (est. $10,000/15,000).

Various-owner consignments bookended the collection of Eugene E. Derryberry of Roanoke, Virginia. The Roanoke lawyer, talented musician (he played the guitar and sang), and community activist loved country Americana. He began collecting in the 1960s and bought from dealers and auctioneers up and down the East Coast. He kept careful records, so nearly every one of the 99 lots had provenance. Local dealers in the salesroom had a field day, and the phones and Internet were active. A green-painted Delaware Valley comb-back Windsor sold for $6875 (est. $4000/6000); a New England painted brace-back continuous-arm Windsor brought $4063 (est. $3000/5000). A small Weber box, 2½" x 4¾", painted salmon pink and decorated with tulips and a fuchsia on top, sold for $10,000 (est. $3000/5000); a miniature painted rooster, 3" high, attributed to Wilhelm Schimmel (1817-1890), Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, went for $6875 (est. $1000/2000); and a red-painted pine hanging box with a lollipop back sold for a surprising $4063 (est. $500/$800).

The sale ended with a collection of 26 lots of American Indian rugs and pottery and a scrapbook of detailed watercolors of “The Erastus T. Tefft Collection of Garments and Implements of Indians of North America,” painted in 1901, that sold for $9375 (est. $6000/10,000). The Tefft collection was considered one of the foremost in the U.S. and was purchased by the Museum of Natural History in New York City, where for years it was on display. The book of watercolors documents it.

Freeman’s Americana sale brought a total of $1.2 million; all but 44 of the 436 lots sold. The Schorsch mourning jewelry accounted of $354,705 and was 100% sold, with most of the lots selling well above estimate. There seem to be plenty of collectors of memento mori. The Derryberry collection of painted boxes, needlework, fraktur, and Windsor chairs was 92% sold. Thirteen of the 14 Herrick-Maynard-Hatch Gothic Revival carved oak dining chairs designed by Alexander Jackson Davis for Ericstan, Tarrytown, New York, sold for a total of $110,313.

For more information, contact Freeman’s at (215) 563-9275 or check the website (www.FreemansAuction.com).

The large (50½" x 36") painting of Granville and Ella Jane Parks of Woburn, Massachusetts, with their pet dog, circa 1830, came right from the family of Ella Jane Parks. Granville was born in 1840, and Ella Jane, or “Ellie,” in 1844 to Leonard Wellman and Rosanna Nichols Parks, who married in 1838. Leonard worked in the leather and shoe industry and died in 1850. Rosanna remarried in 1852 to Alfred Eaton. Ella Jane married Charles W. Todd of Stoneham, Massachusetts, in 1865, and Granville passed away from consumption in 1890 at age 57. The circa 1850 portrait, oil on seamed flour sacks, sold to the trade on the phone for $112,500 (est. $40,000/60,000), underbid by a collector. By sale time, it was known that the painter was Samuel Miller.

Gold and enamel mourning ring, probably Boston, dated 1765, set with a skull under faceted crystal, flanked by crystal baguettes, the scrolling band inscribed “N. LORING O.B. 15. MAY 1765. AE. 9M.,” against a white enamel ground, seemingly unmarked, ring size 7, sold for $4063 (est. $800/1200) to a collector/dealer in the salesroom.

Four phone bidders and bidders in the salesroom competed for this gold Stuart crystal mourning pendant for Prince William, Duke of Gloucester (1689-1700), the nephew of King William III of England, circa 1700. Of oval form, featuring a miniature portrait of Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, with a skull at the shoulder beneath the inscribed date, “30 July 1700,” watercolor on paper beneath faceted crystal, loop attachment, 1¾" long, seemingly unmarked, sold on the phone for $35,000 (est. $2000/2500).

American school 18th-century portrait miniature of Revolutionary War Captain Joseph Fox (1749-1820) of the 16th Massachusetts Regiment, unsigned, watercolor on ivory, gilt metal locket case, 1" x ¾" (sight size), sold for $32,500 (est. $10,000/15,000) to an institution.

Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), portrait of George Washington (1732-1799), oil on canvas, framed, 26¼" x 22¼", sold for $71,875 (est. $40,000/60,000). It has an impressive provenance: Eleanor Parke Custis and her descendants owned it until it was sold to Schwarz Gallery, Philadelphia, in the 1990s, and then it went to the Truland Foundation, which lent it to Woodlawn Plantation, Alexandria, Virginia, until 2003.

Green-painted comb-back Windsor armchair, Delaware Valley, circa 1790, 42" high, sold on the phone for $6875 (est. $4000/6000).


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

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