Purchase Story

Washington and Wady Top Christie’s Americana Auction

Christie’s, New York City

Photos courtesy Christie’s

Americana sales in January have been called the barometer of the market for at least five decades. “As goes January, so goes the market” is the mantra. Collectors and dealers who make this market buy what speaks to them and ignore what they deem over-restored, poorly designed, and overestimated. After spending days examining furniture, silver, folk art, and Outsider art at Christie’s, their verdict was that Americana is embraced by a loyal following.

Despite the fact that half of the attendees in the full salesroom left after the Outsider art sale and before the American furniture, folk art, and silver sale, a long phone bank and plenty of online bidders competed with those in the room, which slowed the pace of the sale, but they did get the job done.

The Hunter-Dunn family plum pudding mahogany block-and-shell tall-case clock, dial signed by James Wady (d. 1759), Newport, 1750-59, 101" high x 21" wide x 10" deep, sold for $612,500 (est. $200,000/300,000) to Massachusetts dealer Gary Sullivan in the salesroom, underbid on the phone. At Christie’s in January 2000, it had sold for $442,500 to Massachusetts dealer Robert Cheney for a client. Only eight other clocks by Wady are known; they are similar to those of his master William Claggett (1694-1749). It is believed that this one is Wady’s last-known or penultimate creation. The convex shells were introduced after the concave shells, and this is one of approximately 36 known with convex block-and-shell embellishment that predates the Revolution, according to Patricia E. Kane in Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650-1830. It is possible that the first owner was Dr. William Hunter (c. 1730-1777), Kate Hunter’s great-grandfather. Kate Hunter and her husband, Thomas Dunn, owned the clock in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it descended in the family until it was sold in 2000.

Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), after Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), Portrait of George Washington as a Colonel of the Alexandria Militia,early 19th century, oil on canvas, 50½" x 40", sold for $852,500 (est. $400,000/600,000) to Baltimore dealer Stiles Colwill for a Baltimore collector, underbid in the salesroom by Glasgow, Kentucky, dealer Taylor Thistlethwaite. Colwill said in an e-mail, “With some 35 years of doing research into the Peales, starting in my days at the Maryland Historical Society, I’ve seen quite a few Peales come and go.... This is to me one of the MOST important in my mind.... It sold at Skinner in 2004 [for $446,000]…and needed serious conservation work.... As yet we do not know for whom it was painted, but that’s work we shall be doing and trying to flesh out the provenance further. While some may say it’s just a copy of Charles Willson Peale’s original, it’s typical of the Peale family to have multiple versions of the same image by different family members; it’s part of what makes them unique. Rembrandt and brother Raphaelle started copying their father’s work as early as 1796/98 for their Baltimore Museum, several of which survived at the Maryland Historical Society. [Charles Willson Peale’s] image of George from which this is taken is really the only image that shows the young George, pre-fame. So this version is one of only two such likenesses. I’d say pretty damn cool to get it as the other is at Washington & Lee. I said to my collector, ‘This is your only chance to own such a likeness.’ And now we do.”

Carved and polychrome paint-decorated Indian princess with papoose cigar-store figure, attributed to Thomas V. Brooks (1828-1895), 84" high x 23½" wide x 22" deep, with an Outsider Folk Art Gallery, Reading, Pennsylvania, provenance, sold on the phone for $47,500 (est. $50,000/100,000).

Silk and metal on linen pictorial needlework, stitched by Mary Russell (b. 1779), Marblehead, Massachusetts or Bristol, Rhode Island, dated 1791, signed “Mary Russell worked in the 13th year 1791” along the lower edge, sold on the phone for $324,500 (est. $60,000/90,000). In October 1986, it sold at Sotheby’s to Joel and Kate Kopp of America Hurrah for $121,000. Betty Ring illustrated it in Let Virtue Be a Guide to Thee: Needlework in the Education of Rhode Island Women, 1730-1830, the 1983 Metropolitan Museum of Art catalog, and in Ring’s1993 Girlhood Embroidery. It is one of only five black background samplers thought to have been made at Anne Usher’s school in Bristol, but black background samplers were also made in Martha Tarr Hanover Barber’s school in Marblehead. There were girls named Mary Russell of the right age in Bristol and in Marblehead at the time this was made.

For consignors of Newport furniture, it was a good day. For consignors of blockfront Massachusetts chests, it was not. Just 139 lots of furniture, folk art, and silver accounted for $4,109,250 of the $8,255,750 total for Christie’s 2018 Americana Week sales that included $2,129,125 for 176 lots of Chinese export porcelain sold on January 18, and $2,017,375 for 86 lots of Outsider art sold on January 19. The Outsider art sale was 96% sold by lot! (See p. 15-D.)

Christie’s deputy chairman John Hays prided himself in offering a “carefully curated sale” with 171 lots, of which 139 lots sold, an 81% sell-through rate. There were some big prices and a few big disappointments.

Rembrandt Peale’s early 19th-century portrait of George Washington as colonel of the Alexandria militia, a copy of an earlier work by his father, Charles Willson Peale, sold for $852,500 (est. $400,000/600,000) with buyer’s premium to Baltimore dealer and interior designer Stiles Colwill, who said he bought it for a discerning collector. The disappointed underbidder in the salesroom was dealer Taylor Thistlethwaite of Glasgow, Kentucky. The large painting is an early 19th-century copy of the only portrait of Washington painted in Virginia and as a young soldier. Martha Washington commissioned Charles Willson Peale to paint George in 1772 as a pendant to her own portrait painted in 1757 by John Wollaston. Both portraits descended in the Washington/Custis family and are now in the collections of Washington & Lee University. Rembrandt Peale understood the importance of his father’s relationship with Washington, who granted Charles multiple life sittings. Rembrandt joined his father for Washington’s final life sitting in 1795. Making copies was how artists made a living, and this is a very good copy by one of Charles Willson Peale’s talented sons.

New research by Martha Willoughby, Christie’s furniture historian, proved that a James Wady clock in a shell-carved Newport case from one of the early Townsend-Goddard shops was probably made circa 1758 for Dr. William Hunter, who ran an apothecary in Newport. A Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, Hunter encouraged the painter Gilbert Stuart. Stuart painted Hunter’s spaniels sleeping under a table of Newport design now in the Newport Preservation Society. It was probably Wady’s last clock, and it has an unusual tides dial, which was useful in a port city. The clock may have stood in the Hunter House (now a historic house museum) after Dr. Hunter’s son, Senator William Hunter, bought the house on 54 Washington Street, Newport, in 1805. All this provoked a bidding battle between Massachusetts dealer Gary Sullivan in the salesroom and a phone bidder, and it was Sullivan’s winning bid of $500,000, which came to $612,500 with buyer’s premium, that made the clock the highest-priced piece of furniture sold during the week. Sullivan said he bought it for a collector. It topped its previous auction price at Christie’s in January 2000 of $442,500, then a record for a tall-case American clock. In 2002 another Wady clock in a case with an untouched surface sold to Massachusetts dealer Bill Samaha for $666,000 at Christie’s. “Prices rise for exceptional objects,” said Hays after the sale.

A few lots later, Sullivan would have liked to buy 1760-90 side chairs made and owned by Newport cabinetmaker John Townsend, but he shook his head when the bidding went to $120,000. The chairs sold to a phone bidder for $150,000, well over the $30,000/50,000 estimate.

Four chairs made for Philadelphia Quaker Richard Edwards, with the carving attributed to Martin Jugiez, 1770-75, were a major discovery of the week. Hays discovered them in Canada; they were owned by a direct descendant of Richard Edwards. They were offered as two pairs because one had been refinished. The first pair sold for $118,750 (est. $30,000/50,000), and the second pair sold for $43,750 (est. $20,000/30,000) to the same buyer. All the bidding was on the phones. Other chairs from the set are known; one is pictured in Hornor’s Blue Book: Philadelphia Furniture(1935).

Philadelphia furniture has classic proportions and first-rate craftsmanship, which was evident in a pair of walnut compass-seat side chairs from the Rawle family made a generation before the Edwards chairs. Also consigned by a direct descendant of the original owner and conservatively estimated at $30,000/50,000, they generated a bidding battle between a phone bidder and art advisor William Stahl in the salesroom. The phone bidder won the pair of chairs for $137,500.

Another discovery at Christie’s was a turned and joined oak and pine chest over drawers, owned by the Honorable Peter Thatcher, made in Plymouth or Barnstable County, Massachusetts, circa 1680, with the initials “PT” on the center of the frieze and an old layer of red and black paint. It was unrestored and missing some moldings, but with Martha Willoughby’s careful scholarship, it was estimated at $30,000/50,000 and brought $40,000.

When a piece is fresh to market, and especially when it is direct from descendants and has reasonable estimates, bidding is usually spirited, but hefty estimates can have the opposite effect. A Josiah Merriam diminutive mahogany turret-top card table, made in Boston, 1740-60, left the family in 1995 when it sold at Skinner for $134,500 to dealer Wayne Pratt. It sold at Christie’s on one bid at $87,500 (est. $80,000/120,000).

The high estimate may have discouraged bidding for a figured maple dressing table, made in Philadelphia, 1750-60, and it failed to sell. Philip Bradley sold a walnut one from the same shop recently for around $30,000, so it is hard to explain why the curly maple lowboy would be estimated to be worth $250,000/500,000. Another similar tiger maple dressing table sold at Sotheby’s in 2007 for $4,408,000. It’s hard to be sure if either the one at Christie’s or the one at Sotheby’s in 2007 were from William Savery’s shop, though both were attributed to Savery. The high estimate of $200,000/400,000 also discouraged bidding for an inlaid high chest and matching dressing table that had been reunited in the 1990s. They are certainly from the same shop but have different brasses. There was no bidding over $140,000, and they were passed.

James Bard (1815-1897), Portrait of the Steamship “Martha Washington,” signed, dated, and inscribed “Drawn & Painted By James Bard NY 1864 162 Perry Street” lower right, oil on canvas, 297/8" x 50", sold for $23,750 (est. $20,000/40,000) on the phone. It sold for $37,000 at Christie’s on January 18, 2008, and for $26,450 at Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in November 2001. An excursion boat, the Martha Washington was used to follow the New York Yacht Club regattas. In 1870 it was sold to the U.S. Lighthouse Board, and its name was changed to the Violet. The painting was once in the collection of the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, which still has a drawing of the Martha Washington.

Micah Williams (1782-1837), Portrait of a Woman Holding a Book Wearing a Lace Hat with a Pink Ribbon, circa 1830,pastel on paper, 26" x 22", sold for $8125 (est. $8000/12,000) to an absentee bidder. At a Sotheby’s Arcade sale on September 10, 2003, it sold for $22,800.

This pair of Philadelphia rococo carved mahogany side chairs, 38½" high, with carving attributed to Martin Jugiez (d. 1815), 1770-75, was owned by Richard Edwards (1744-1799) of Lumberton, New Jersey, and descended in the Edwards family. The chairs are each marked: one frame is marked I and the other III, and the yellow pine slip-seat frames are marked IIII and III respectively. They sold on the phone for $118,750 (est. $30,000/50,000).

Martha Willoughby called the design avant-garde for 1770 and notes in the catalog that the C-scrolls and leaf ornaments relate to a suite of furniture made for David Deshler that are attributed to the shop of Thomas Tufft and have carving attributed to John Pollard. A high chest, dressing table, pier table, and set of chairs of a different design all made for Richard Edwards are thought to have been listed in a bill of sale written by Tufft to Edwards around 1775-76. The bill of sale is known only through transcriptions. The chairs in this lot apparently descended from the same source and have similar knee carving as the rest of the furniture from the Tufft shop, but this has not been confirmed, and furniture historian Alan Miller has attributed the fluid carving to Jugiez instead of Pollard.

It is believed that Edwards, a lumber merchant, ordered these chairs shortly after his marriage to Abigail Harrison in 1768. They may have lived in Moorestown, New Jersey. In 1789 he purchased the Taunton Iron Works in Taunton, New Jersey, where he built a mansion, according to antiquarian Carl M. Williams in a May 28, 1987, Christie’s catalog.

The Edwards pier table was sold in January 1990 for $4,620,000. It was consigned by the uncle of the consignor of these chairs. A chair from this same set is illustrated in Hornor’s Blue Book: Philadelphia Furniture. The following lot at Christie’s, another pair of chairs owned by Richard Edwards, one with a different finish and history, sold to the same buyer for $43,750 (est. $20,000/30,000).

The sale opened with a small selection of folk art. Mary Russell’s silk and metal on linen pictorial needlework sold on the phone for $324,500 (est. $60,000/90,000). Despite condition problems, it sold for well over the $121,000 it had sold for at Sotheby’s in October 1986 when it was bought by Joel and Kate Kopp of America Hurrah. Rebecca Scott of Witney Antiques, Oxfordshire, U.K., came to New York to buy a band sampler wrought by Elizabeth Searles at Judith Hayle’s school in Ipswich, England, in 1701. She paid $40,000 (est. $20,000/30,000) for it. A collection of weathervanes sold toward the low side of estimates, but a 19th-century Pennsylvania farm scene, with a “Berenice Abbott / 50 Commerce Street / New York, 14, N.Y.” label on the reverse, sold on the phone for $68,750 (est. $30,000/50,000). At the sale of the collection of Joy and Richard Kanter at Sotheby’s in 2002, it had sold for $64,000. At the sale of the Catherine and Howard Feldman collection at Sotheby’s in 1988, it had sold for $25,300.

Pennsylvania farm scene, 19th century, the reverse with a “Berenice Abbott / 50 Commerce Street / New York 14, N.Y.” label, oil on canvas, 27½" x 36¼", sold on the phone for $68,750 (est. $30,000/50,000). At the sale of the Joy and Richard Kanter collection at Sotheby’s in 2002, it sold for $64,000 (est. $25,000/35,000). At the sale of Catherine and Howard Feldman’s collection at Sotheby’s in 1988, it sold for $25,300; the Feldmans had bought it from Peter Tillou.

Gilt and paint-decorated cut-metal Amish horse and buggy weathervane, probably from the Midwest, late 19th/early 20th century, with traces of black and yellow paint, 20½" high x 40" long, sold for $16,250 (est. $10,000/20,000) from the Paul and Esther Gansky collection. At Sotheby’s in January 1992, it had sold from the collection of Don Walters for $22,000.

Silver sold well; only three lots failed to find buyers. A Tiffany silver and mixed-metal three-piece ale drinking set, circa 1878, sold for $112,500 to a museum. Following Christie’s success selling the Reagans’ belongings, it did well with the Eisenhowers’ silver. Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower’s Tiffany flatware used on their planes, Columbine II and Columbine III, sold for $60,000 (est. $12,000/18,000). Most of the 11 lots consigned by the John S.D. Eisenhower Trust sold online.

Christie’s one-session Americana sale on Friday was a small part of the 1500 lots of Americana offered at auction in New York City in five days, of which 80% was absorbed. Only high estimates and reserves prevented a higher sell-through rate, demonstrating that there is indeed a market for Americana, fueled by some museum buying and with old-time collectors competing with new ones. Those who did not sit through the sales were on the phones or online or may have been shopping and buying at the shows.

For more information, call Christie’s at (212) 636-2000 or check the website (www.christies.com).

The Rawle family pair of Queen Anne carved walnut compass-seat side chairs, Philadelphia, 1740-60, both chairs with original slip-seat frames, the first one marked III, the second chair marked XI, and slip-seat frames similarly marked, 423/8" high, sold on the phone for $137,500 (est. $30,000/50,000), underbid in the salesroom by art and antiques advisor William Stahl. Having descended in the Rawle family, they are probably from a large set of dining chairs.

The Loockerman family mahogany drop-leaf dining tables, Philadelphia, 1750-70, one 28" high x 593/8" wide x 20½" deep closed, the other 28½" high x 59¼" wide x 20¾" deep closed, sold for $100,000 (est. $100,000/150,000). They sold for $583,000 at Sotheby’s in February 1985. In January 1987 they were pulled from a sale (est. $400,000/600,000) and sold privately. In October 1996 they sold on the phone for $310,500 at Christie’s. Offered in January 2017 at Sotheby’s with a $200,000/300,000 estimate, they failed to sell.

This is part of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower’s flatware service used on two presidential aircrafts named Columbine, the state flower of Colorado. Both planes were Lockheed Constellations. Columbine II was first used by Eisenhower 1950-52 when he was commander of NATO in Europe. It was the first presidential aircraft to be called Air Force One. Made by Tiffany, circa 1940, in the Century pattern in celebration of Tiffany’s 100th anniversary, the service is engraved with the monogram “DDE” and later was engraved “The Columbine.” The service for 24 in its fitted Tiffany case sold for $60,000 (est. $12,000/18,000). It was consigned by the John S.D. Eisenhower Trust.

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

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