Purchase Story

The Millbach Sale

John M. Hess Auction Service, Newmanstown, Pennsylvania

Photos courtesy John M. Hess Auction Service

The large sandstone and limestone house of the miller at Millbach in Millcreek Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, is the finest and best-known example of Pennsylvania German architecture. It was built in 1752 by German immigrant Georg Müller (since anglicized to Miller) and his wife, Maria Catherine Stump. There are two date stones on the property: the one on the house reads “Jerg Muler / Maria Catr M / 1752,” and the one on the mill reads “1784 / Gott Alein de ehr [God alone the honor] / Michael Mieler / M Elisabet Milern.” The latter was made when Michael Müller rebuilt his father’s mill.

According to Lisa Minardi in American Furniture 2011, Michael, George and Maria Müller’s eldest son, was given the property when he was just 21. In 1753 George transferred the house, mill, and 144 acres to Michael and with a servant girl named Glory Litsler left Pennsylvania for North Carolina, where they ran a tavern on a plantation in Rowan County. Michael Müller prospered; when he died in 1814 he was one of the richest men in Heidelberg Township, Lancaster County (now Millcreek Township in Lebanon County).

Millbach, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, walnut schrank, third quarter of the 18th century, with scrolled pediment, dentil molding, and raised panels typical of the Millbach region, original hardware with rattail hinges, quarter columns, interior with original shelves and peg hooks secured with rosehead nails, and turned feet, sold in the salesroom for $40,000 to a Maryland collector, underbid by dealer Greg Kramer.

Berks County, Pennsylvania, unicorn and lion decorated softwood dower chest, late 18th/early 19th century, 25" x 53" x 24", front with three arched panels, the center panel with a pair of unicorns and a tulip, and the flanking panels with rampant lions and crowns, side panels with potted flowers, interior till, strap hinges with penny ends, missing the iron jaw lock, bracket feet, faded paint, sold for $10,500 to dealer Greg Kramer of Robesonia, Pennsylvania.

Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, paint-decorated dower chest, 25" x 53" x 24", the front with three arched panels, the central arch with flowers and inscribed “CADRINA / HEMPERLY / 1832,” the two flanking panels with compass stars and stamped florets, two oval panels on the lid decorated with stamped florets and a band of diamonds along the edges, interior till with secret compartment, wrought-iron strap hinges with penny ends, wrought-iron jaw lock with wrigglework decoration, dovetailed case, and a molded bracket base. A similar example is pictured in The Pennsylvania-German Decorated Chest (1978) by Monroe H. Fabian, page 174, photo 177. In good condition, this chest was pictured on the front of the catalog and estimated at $20,000/30,000. It sold for $21,000 to a local collector standing in the back of the salesroom.

Minardi points out that the interior of the house is a German floor plan with a large kitchen, stove room, and bedchamber on the first floor. The paneled doors have distinctive shaped fielded paneling, and the baroque staircase has square-sawn balusters. In 1926 J. Stogdell Stokes, an early collector of Pennsylvania German antiques and president of the board of trustees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, persuaded his friends Mr. and Mrs. Pierre S. du Pont and Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont  to buy the woodwork in the great kitchen, the stairs, and a bedroom from the house at Millbach, and in 1928 the two rooms and staircase were installed on the second floor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Stokes furnished the rooms at the museum from his own collection. The kitchen is still one of the most popular period rooms in the museum; the bedroom paneling is in storage.

The Millbach house has had several owners over the years. On a drive in the country in the 1970s, Richard Flanders Smith and his wife, Joane, discovered the empty Millbach house. They eventually purchased it and some of the surrounding acreage. They lived in the big house for a while but decided not to disturb it with a modern restoration. Instead, they built a country kitchen and reassembled an old log house from York County across the street and moved in there. Richard was an artist and photographer; he added a darkroom and studio to the compound and used the Millbach house as a gallery and an antiques shop. Smith’s day job was vice president and art director of Armstrong World Industries in Lancaster. After retiring, he had more time for art.

In the summer of 2000, the Smiths, facing heath problems, donated the Millbach house and 13 acres to the Millbach Foundation, run by Chip Henderson, a pharmaceutical executive who had restored Charming Forge located 12 miles away in adjacent Berks County. Henderson installed a full-time caretaker in a modernized apartment in the wing that Michael Müller had added to the Millbach house for his mother in 1760.

The Millbach house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Architectural historians have made pilgrimages there for generations to admire the big chamfered posts and beams and the shaped raised paneling. Chip Henderson and his wife, Vonnie, decided it was time to pass the property to new owners. They asked auctioneer John Hess to sell the real estate and some furniture that had been purchased by the Millbach Foundation. To make a better sale they added some of the antiques they had bought over the years that do not fit into their retirement residence. The proceeds from the sale of the house and foundation’s furniture will be used to support other historical house projects.

The Millbach sale was held in a tent behind the barn and next to the log house and stone kitchen that the Smiths had built. Darla Wise, who had purchased that property in 2016, has restored the Smith house and gardens, which had fallen into disrepair. She has an antiques shop in the barn.

On October 28, 2017, a perfect fall day, an old-fashioned farm sale, the kind Smith and Henderson attended 40 years ago, attracted a big crowd to Millbach. The trade and collectors bought the antiques, and the Millbach house with 13.14 acres also found a new owner.

Stiegel-type blown amethyst glass footed master salt with a comet tail pontil, 4¼" high, in good condition, sold for $850 to a collector in the salesroom, underbid by Greg Kramer.

Stiegel-type polychrome enamel-decorated colorless glass bottle decorated with love birds and flowers, 8" high, in good condition with its metal top, sold for $850 to a collector in the salesroom, underbid by dealer Greg Kramer, who bought a lot of the Stiegel-type glass at the sale.

Uncataloged lots were shown in the barn along with some smalls from the 95-lot illustrated catalog. There were dozens of Stiegel-type flip glasses and what used to be called drug or cordial bottles, possibly American or perhaps German, some decorated with colorful enameled flowers, birds, and figures, and others with lyrical engraving. There was a large service of Wedgwood creamware decorated with a chaste red and green border reportedly ordered during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. Chip Henderson said he and his wife bought the service at an antiques shop in San Francisco and shipped tureens of several sizes, covered platters, plates, and soup plates back to Pennsylvania. Two dozen dower chests, five beds, two clocks, and a large wardrobe or schrank were on view in the Millbach house and mill across the road.

Rare mid-19th-century Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, four-color crib coverlet with the name and date “David Yingst / Lebanon / 1854,” 41½" x 42½" not including fringe, in good condition, sold for $2530 online, underbid by an absentee bidder.

Lititz area, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, walnut wing-back armchair, 18th century, with a shell- and foliate-carved crest, leather upholstery, and cabriole legs with shell-carved knees and ball-and-claw feet, 40½" high, seat height 17", sold for $3000 to dealer Philip Bradley.

Bethel Township, Lebanon County, paint-decorated softwood dower chest with arched panels with stylized flowers, 1805-10, 23½" x 50" x 22¼", with an interior till, iron strap hinges with tulip ends, and a jaw lock with wrigglework decoration, sold for $5750. There are similar examples in Monroe Fabian’s The Pennsylvania-German Decorated Chest (see pages 170 and 208).

John Hess began selling uncataloged lots at 9 a.m., and at 10:30 a.m. he began selling from the catalog. After selling all 95 cataloged lots, Hess returned to selling uncataloged items, but he stopped at noon to offer the real estate. Bidding for the house and attached mill, the caretaker’s apartment, and 13.14 acres opened at $200,000 when a man in a red jacket with his wife and teenage son raised his bidding number. No one advanced his opening bid. Hess announced that there was a reserve and said he would take some time to discuss the reserve with Henderson and the foundation’s lawyer. The sale of uncataloged lots continued with Judah Bauman at the podium until Hess returned and reopened the bidding for the real estate by announcing that the reserve had been met. In $1000 increments, bidding continued with a man standing just outside the tent competing with the man in the red jacket standing on the other side of the tent. When he bid $215,000, the man in the red jacket, a phone to his ear, shook his head no. The Millbach house and mill sold for $215,000 to a Lancaster County real estate agent who had come to see the house earlier that day. “His name is David Charles of Millersville, and he has a love of historic buildings,” said Hess. “He is dealer Eugene Charles’s nephew, so he is aware of antiques.”

Jonestown, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, paint-decorated softwood dower chest, dated 1773, attributed to Christian Selzer (1749-1831), 22" x 52½" x 23½", sold for $5000 to Greg Kramer. It is the earliest known dated chest by Christian Selzer. The center panel is inscribed “M.H. 1773.” The interior till has a secret compartment, the wrought-iron hinges have penny ends, and the chest has a wrought-iron jaw lock.

Bechtelsville, Berks County, Pennsylvania, paint-decorated softwood dower chest, dated 1771, with a sponge ground with a heart motif, a name banner inscribed “ISAAC BECHTEL 1771,” interior till with secret compartment, wrought-iron strap hinges, batwing brass key escutcheon, dovetailed case, two drawers with brass hardware, and a bracket base with a central drop. It is missing its iron jaw lock. There is a similar example in Monroe Fabian’s The Pennsylvania-German Decorated Chest (p. 176). It sold for $5000 to the buyer of the Millbach wardrobe.

All the antiques found buyers. Among the 20 dower chests, mostly a tired lot with faded paint but appealing Pennsylvania German designs, were some rarities. One chest, said to have been made in Millbach, had panels with notched corners typical of Millbach paneling; another, with vine and leaf inlay, typical of Schaefferstown designs, was bought for $7250 (no buyer’s premium charged) for Historic Schaefferstown. A Dauphin/Lebanon County chest, with still bright painted stars and stamped florets in arched panels and the name and date “Cadrina Hemperly 1832,”sold for $21,000 to a collector. A large wardrobe, cataloged as “Millbach,” with a scrolled top and shaped panels sold to a Maryland collector in the salesroom for $40,000, the top price of the day.

 There was no buyer’s premium except for online sales, and no tax was charged because the proceeds went to the foundation. The large crowd stayed to the very end. One of the last lots in the sale was the 2010 Pook & Pook catalog for the Richard Flanders and Joane Smith sale that included an introduction by the Smiths’ son, Peter, who relates the story of the Millbach house and how his parents moved the log house and built the stone kitchen in 1979. The catalog sold to a collector who rarely misses a sale in Lancaster or Chester County but had missed that one. He paid $110 for the slim hardcover catalog to fill a gap in his library. In that catalog, lot 171 is the only piece of furniture to survive from the Millbach house, a painted poplar hanging cupboard that had a distinctive green-painted panel that related to paneling on a door from the house. It sold for $11,850 to a woman in the salesroom at the October 30, 2010, sale.

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, paint-decorated softwood miniature dower chest, 12½" x 19" x 12", interior with walnut till, wrought-iron strap hinges with penny ends, dovetailed case, bracket base with spurs, black and red decoration, sold for $3450. It was one of a few lots that sold online and therefore had a 15% buyer’s premium.


This 29½" x 59" x 23½" paint-decorated chest was made for a boy rather than a girl and has the name and date “PHILIP MILLER / 1783 NOV 24.” It sold for $5500 in the salesroom. Made in Kutztown, Berks County, and decorated with a star and potted plants on a green background, it has two drawers and a molded bracket base.

Elizabeth Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Chippendale vine and berry inlaid walnut dower chest, 1780-90, with distinctive heart-shaped leaves, the name “Magdalena Krall” in a lightwood inlaid plaque, molded lid, interior till, wrought-iron shaped strap hinges, and shaped wrought-iron key escutcheon, sold for $7250 to Alice Oskam, bidding for Historic Schaefferstown, which is just down the road from the Millbach house. The inlay is original, but the chest has been restored below the waist molding. The drawers and feet are new. In American Furniture 2011, Lisa Minardi wrote that the Krall family was not as well off as the Miller family. According to Minardi’s article, Magdalena Krall’s grandfather emigrated from Germany in 1729, and her parents, Christian and Catherine Krall, likely Mennonites, lived in a 30' x 24' log house.

According to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, dealer Vernon Gunnion, a good friend of Richard Smith, Smith bought the cupboard from Sara Musselman, whose mother- and father-in-law, Ada and Clayton Musselman, were pioneer dealers in Pennsylvania German antiques and had owned the hanging cupboard since the 1920s. Reportedly Clayton Musselman had found it in the mill after he told J. Stogdell Stokes about the Millbach woodwork; Musselman decided to keep the cupboard for himself. Wonder where it is now.

“For the state of the market, we did well,” said John Hess after the sale. The antiques were 100% sold and brought a total of $205,000. The real estate sold for $215,000, bringing the total for the day to $420,000.

For more information, call (717) 664-5238 or check the website (www.hessauctiongroup.com).

Pennsylvania mid-18th-century pine trestle table, three-board top, shaped supports, molded stretcher, and shoe feet, 30" x 80½" x 33", sold in the salesroom for $9000.

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

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