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Purchase Story

The Collection of Nan Gurley

Mark Sisco | September 17th, 2016

Gurley Auction Co., Parsonsfield, Maine

Nan Gurley (1943-2016) was a powerful force in the New England antiques business and was well known and highly respected as a show promoter and dealer. She didn’t turn to show management until the 1980s, when she ran venues in Deerfield and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Portland, Maine, and a handful of other locations, but decades before that, she began establishing herself as a dealer and collector of Americana and other folk art forms. From her last home in Parsonsfield, Maine, her son, Joshua Gurley, auctioned her collection on September 17.

The event drew scores of dealers from across New England, eager to capture part of the Nan Gurley provenance panache. It was all Nan Gurley—in merchandise and in style—heavy on painted furniture and rich in colorful utilitarian items, such as painted kitchenwares, children’s toys, and wall decorations.

As the opening time approached, Josh Gurley cautioned the crowd, “It’s been over a year since I’ve done this. It’s going to take me a while to get good again.” He needn’t have worried. He got good quickly.

Tiger maple can add value to just about any piece of antique furniture, but it seemed to work particular magic on the very first lot, a Shaker trestle table. The design was classically simple Shaker, with slightly raised shoe-foot ends, wedged mortise and tenon joints holding the wide stretcher, and a smoothly worn two-board top with pegged breadboard ends. Gurley related, “We sat at this for forty years, and how we talked!”

It was the auction opener and the auction topper. It quickly cruised to $14,850 (including buyer’s premium) with a round of applause.


This tiger maple Shaker trestle table led the sale at $14,850.

It took $4400 to win a marble game with a painted panel of a blackface balloon man. On the back was an inscription reading “Made by C. E. Cahill / Cornish, Maine / 1926.” According to auctioneer Josh Gurley, Cahill was an itinerant circus worker who passed through the area around that time.


The painted blackface marble game by itinerant carnival worker C.E. Cahill sold for $4400.

The “-style” disclaimer was the key word in describing a stepback cupboard with open center as “Peter Hunt style.” There is a lot more Peter Hunt “wannabe” painted furniture in this world than there is the real deal. Hunt (1896-1967) established himself in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as a folk art painter and decorator beginning with his arrival there in the early 1920s, and his work has spawned a host of imitators. If it turns out that the paint on the cupboard is by Hunt, then the buyer can consider himself extremely lucky to have gotten it for $330. “You wouldn’t believe what Mom paid for that cupboard,” Gurley lamented.


Possibly painted by Peter Hunt, the stepback cupboard sold for $330.

In conversation later, Gurley summed up: “The truth is, Mom’s collection was modest because she was an antiques dealer, and she sold the stuff…. It was a great appreciation of her collection of small things that she had assembled over the years.”

For more information, call Gurley Auction Co. at (207) 229-0403 or visit (www.gurleyauctions.com).


This heavy worktable came from F.O. Bailey of Portland, one of Maine’s oldest companies. With drawers on both sides and one or two replaced knobs, it brought $1980.


As a bidder readily opened the bidding on this red-painted miniature two-drawer slant-front desk at $1000, Josh Gurley cracked, “Somebody’s not messin’ around! That’s called power bidding.” No matter, the winner still had to chase it to $1705.


This naïve portrait of a young girl in a shimmery white dress and holding a basket of roses in her left hand has no artist attribution, but clearly it was of the Prior-Hamblen school. The 31¼" x 23 5/8" oil on canvas laid down on a board panel finished up at $3135.


Thoroughly decorated with black stencils on a near-white background, the feet and top surfaces painted black, this overhung Empire chest brought $2750.


It seems as if this enormous painted apothecary cupboard has enough drawers to hold every spice and medicine in a pharmacist’s encyclopedia, and the slanting center section holds four glass-door bins. It closed at $2915.


Originally published in the December 2016 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2016 Maine Antique Digest

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