Purchase Story

Swan Decoy Tops Country Americana Sale

Garth’s Auctions, Columbus, Ohio

Photos courtesy Garth’s

Sometimes it’s not the top lot that makes the most significant statement. When Garth’s Auctions held a sale of country Americana on March 15 in Columbus, Ohio, it was a lesser piece of furniture that stuck in the mind of Jeff Jeffers, Garth’s principal auctioneer and CEO.

Chest of drawers in pine with old slate-gray paint, second half of the 19th century, cutout feet, 36" high x 39¾" wide, wear, separation in top boards, $1050 (est. $300/600).

The item was a two-drawer American chest in pine with slate-gray paint. Having bootjack ends and dating to the second half of the 19th century, it stood 36" high x 39¾" wide. Estimated at $300/600, the chest sold for $1050 (including buyer’s premium).

“It’s an interesting and scarce form,” said Jeffers. “There are times we would have expected that to be two to four hundred dollars, but people are recognizing good paint color and folky form, and it should be a thousand dollars.”

It was that kind of a sale overall. Bidding never went absolutely bonkers, but there was plenty of strong interest from start to finish. “I think we’ve had some good examples, from folk art to redware to glass and accessories,” Jeffers added.

“The results were solid. I have been very pleased with what I’ve seen over the last six to eight months. It certainly feels like there is a little bit of a passionate pursuit back in pricing.”

Preening swan decoy in old white paint, attributed to Currituck, North Carolina, early 20th century, 13" high x 30" long, some puddling to the paint, slight seam separation at the neck, some flaking, age split at bottom, edge wear to bill, rust to tack eyes, tail appears to be have been filed down, square nails in the bill and neck, $4440 (est. $300/600).

The top lot of the day at $4440 (est. $300/600) was a preening swan decoy in white paint, believed to have been made in Currituck, North Carolina, during the early 20th century. It measured 13" high x 30" long.

“That’s a form people absolutely love,” said Jeffers. “The price continues to prove that form drives value. David Wheatcroft once said that quintessential American folk art is an affair of the heart. I’ve never forgotten that. I think great form is exactly that.”

Decorated two-piece stepback cupboard in original red and yellow grain paint, mixed woods, third quarter of the 19th century, 85" high x 55" wide, replaced backboards, wear, edge loss, some inpainting, $3960 (est. $1000/2000). The cupboard previously sold at John M. Hess Auction Service in Pennsylvania in March 2017 for $6962.

Furniture was led by a two-piece blind-door stepback cupboard in original red and yellow grain paint. Dating to the third quarter of the 19th century, it was constructed of mixed woods and stood 85" high x 55" wide. The upper section had a molded cornice, two paneled doors, and a pie shelf, while the lower portion had three drawers over two paneled doors. It sold for $3960 (est. $1000/2000), well over the estimate. The cupboard had previously sold for $6962 at a Pennsylvania auction in March 2017.

The chase for the cupboard was all about the paint decoration. “It had really nice patterns in that paint. When you say form drives value, some people shortsightedly don’t see or understand that. It can be form on a canvas. It can be form on a one-dimensional plane on a piece of wood in paint. The form of the paint was the driving factor on that stepback. It was very clean overall and just a little extra zippy. It continues to prove people have an appreciation for paint. They want to live with color.”

Sheraton sugar chest in cherry, probably Kentucky, 1820s, 37" high x 24¾" wide, refinished, old replaced lid, age splits, $3840 (est. $900/1250).

Form came into play with another piece of furniture, a cherry sugar chest on turned legs, probably of Kentucky origin and dating to the 1820s. At 37" high x 24¾" wide, it was refinished and had an old replaced lid. It sold for $3840 (est. $900/1250). Jeffers wasn’t surprised by the bidding. “There’s always good pride for southern objects, and a sugar chest is an object people can use in their home,” he said.

Two treenware canisters, mid-19th century, one with old black paint, 11¾" high, the lid unpainted, the other with turned rings and dark patina, 12" high, both with varying wear, $2760 the pair (est. $150/300).

Smalls included two treenware canisters, both dating to the mid-19th century, that sold together for $2760 (est. $150/300). One was 11¾" high and in old black paint, although the lid was unpainted, while the other was 12" high and had turned rings and a dark patina. “It was really about surface. Those were early. We said nineteenth century, but they could have had an eighteenth-century origin,” Jeffers said.

Inuit bear carving by Henry Evaluardjuk (1923-2007) of Iqaluit, Nunavut territory, Canada, green serpentine stone, signed, 4½" high x 10" long, flake on a back paw, minor surface scuff on underside, $1500 (est. $400/600).

Stoneware chicken waterer with the impressed mark of Thomas Haig of Philadelphia, third quarter of the 19th century, salt glazed with cobalt tulips, 8¼" high, hairline and chips, burst potstone, $1250 (est. $1000/2000).

Sugar bucket in green paint with white lettering, reputedly from the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, mid-19th century, stave construction with wooden bands and bentwood handle, 9¾" high x 10" diameter, edge wear and some losses, lid loose, $813 (est. $150/300).

“People love smalls. When I first came to Garth’s almost twenty-five years ago, [then co-owner] Carolyn Porter said, ‘People come to the auction to buy furniture, but they end up buying smalls.’ Great American smalls are hard to find. These had a great surface on them. Those two pieces are representative of some of the comeback for good objects. Those would have been a handful less a year ago. People are starting to say, ‘I can’t pass those up anymore. I can’t let those sell for five hundred dollars.’”

Self-portrait by Emerson Burkhart (1905-1969) of Ohio, oil on canvas, signed and dated 1957, 14¼" x 10¼", some flaking, $2000 (est. $1500/2500).

The best of the artwork were two paintings by Emerson Burkhart (1905-1969) of Ohio, each selling for $2000. One was a self-portrait, oil on canvas, signed and dated 1957, 14¼" x 10¼", estimated at $1500/2500; the other, picturing the Blue Goose, an establishment frequented by Burk-hart, was an oil on artist board, signed and dated 1957, 12" x 16", estimated at $1000/2000.

“Burkhart is desirable,” said Jeffers. “Those were right within estimates and appropriate for his work. Both were very pleasing and good. Paintings drive the art market. They speak to people a little differently than a pie safe or two treen jars.”

Garth’s continues to draw a solid showing of floor bidders to its temporary location in Columbus. (The company will be in its new permanent location this summer.) “It was a good crowd. Since we moved to Columbus, the foot traffic and the in-room attendance is up. There are lots of new faces.”

Jeffers noted something else as a key to successful sales. “I’ve been pleased that even clients that seemingly have a houseful are participating.”

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

Hanging pie safe with large tins having punched designs of horses, pinwheels, and compass stars, old gray paint on the wooden frame and tins, mid-19th century, found in Pennsylvania, 38" high x 36" wide x 23¾" deep, edge wear, loss to hanging posts, age split, $1000 (est. $600/1200).

Full-bodied grasshopper weathervane in copper, second half of the 20th century, 24" high x 32" long (with base), the rod on one front leg loose, a back leg bent, finial doesn’t fit exactly into post, $1680 (est. $250/350).

Still life of a cut watermelon with a knife and flying insects, American school, late 19th century or early 20th century, oil on artist board, 12" x 18½" plus frame (not shown), radiating lines of paint loss, crazing, inpainting, revarnished, $1050 (est. $100/250).

Five fancy decorated side chairs with balloon rush seats, second quarter of the 19th century, black paint with original gilt stenciling, 35¾" high, wear, some losses, three seats replaced, $1875 (est. $200/400).

Front half of a standing sandwich board sign, “4 in 1 Service / Hats Cleaned & Blocked / Shoes Repaired While U Wait / Clothes Cleaned & Pressed / Shoes Shined,” painted wood, late 19th century, 48" x 21", paint heavily weathered, slight color variation near the bottom, $1440 (est. $400/800).

Hutch table in pine with a red-painted base, mid-19th century, mortised construction with square nails, 28" high, top 84" x 42", wear, losses, age splits, $1380 (est. $800/1200).

Chimney cupboard in pine with original red paint, probably Pennsylvania, first half of the 19th century, square-nail construction, shelved interior, 82" high x 20" wide, split in door, wear, losses, missing molding, paint enhancements, black paint drips, insect damage, $1140 (est. $400/800).

Small mirror in a round wooden frame with yellow paint, possibly a travel or fragment mirror, 19th century, 3¾" diameter, darkening and crazing to the varnish, paper backing creased and lifted at the edges, minor wear, $1200 (est. $250/450).

Pie safe in pine and poplar with two layers of blue paint, four punched tins with compass stars, mid-19th century, cut-nail construction, 47¼" high x 40" wide, possibly scraped down, top and drawer with little paint, replaced pulls, wear, edge loss, $1200 (est. $400/600).

Twelve-gallon crock by Williams and Reppert, Greensboro, Pennsylvania, stenciled and freehand cobalt decoration with a shield-breasted eagle, mid-19th century, 22½" high, cracked near one handle, $1500 (est. $400/600).


Originally published in the June 2019 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2019 Maine Antique Digest

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