Ringing In The New At Christie’s As Americana Week Sales Reach $15 Million

New discoveries and old favorites pushed Christie’s American silver, folk art, prints, English pottery and Chinese Export art to total sales of a little more than $15 million between Thursday, January 24, and Monday, January 28.

Proving that, even at this late date, great Eighteenth Century property is still surfacing in unexpected places, a Newport block-and-shell carved bureau table, or kneehole desk as the form is also called, turned up in Manhattan, unknown until recently even to Townsend-Goddard expert Morrison Heckscher, author of John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker and curator of the exhibition of the same name at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005.

The bureau table, which has three carved shells across the front of its top drawer and a fourth shell on its recessed door, descended in Newport’s prominent Pell family to Charles Henry Coster (1898–1977). Close inspection revealed a pencil signature on the underside of the top drawer. Initially it was thought to read “John Townsend,” but shortly before the sale, scholars concluded that the signature was more like that of Townsend’s younger brother, Jonathan. Experts believe that the bureau table was made around 1770 in John Townsend’s Newport shop, where his brother was likely apprenticing. Offered at $700/900,000, the trophy climbed to an unexpected $2,210,500.

Another key discovery was a circa 1765–70 tea bowl, only 15/8 inches tall and decorated with blue chinoiserie on a white ground. It turned up at Jupiter Antiques in London in 2004 and is now, along with three other similar bowls, regarded as the only surviving intact product of America’s first porcelain manufactory at Cain Hoy in South Carolina. At least three institutions were said to be interested in the bowl, which went to dealer G.W. Samaha for $146,500. The other bowls are at Chipstone, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in a private collection.

Among many old favorites in the sale was a version of “Penn’s Treaty” by Edward Hicks (1780–1849). Sold to Downingtown, Penn., dealer Philip Bradley for $2,546,500, well above its $600/900,000 estimate, it and Frederick Kemmelmeyer’s circa 1800 folk painting of General George Washington on horseback came from a consignor who purchased them from Hirschl & Alder Galleries in New York. Gallery owner Stuart Feld said he was delighted to reacquire the Kemmelmeyer for $362,500, less than he had offered to buy it back for privately.

Two dozen samplers and silk embroideries, gathered by the late collector Dolf Fuchs, a Swiss-born textiles executive, with the help of Stonington, Conn., dealer Marguerite Riordan, included pictorial embroidery of outstanding artistic and historic interest. Worked by 8-year-old Nancy Winsor in 1786 at the esteemed Mary Balch school in Providence, R.I., the silk and metallic thread on linen work, centering a unique view of a harbor scene with a sailing ship, vest-coated men and courting couples, went to the phone for $110,500.

A map sampler worked around 1820, possibly by Agness M. Candlish of Virginia, exceeded estimate to sell for $52,500; a charming pictorial sampler from Marblehead, Mass., depicting a man and a woman in a garden abundant with life, fetched $40,000; and a characteristic Norwich, Conn., sampler, lavishly worked on a black ground, went to specialist dealers Stephen and Carol Huber for $37,500.

Characterized as a masterpiece by Albert Sack in his book The New Fine Points of Furniture, 1993, a circa 1740–60 Boston Queen Anne carved mahogany tea table, with a pinched corner top, carved C-scrolls, candle slide, sold for $962,500 to Yardley, Penn., dealer Todd Prickett, nearly twice what it made in the sale of Mr and Mrs Eddy Nicholson in 1995.

Another well-known piece with Sack provenance was the so-called Gaines armchair, a much published example from Portsmouth, N.H. Thought to have been made by John Gaines around 1740, it, too, went to Prickett for $542,500.

The fickle nature of the auction market was evident in the sale of a well-traveled circa 1730–50 Boston Queen Anne mahogany tray-top tea table with one drawer. Twice retailed by Israel Sack and once by Leigh Keno, the table brought $290,500. It sold at Christie’s in 2005 for $436,000 and at Sotheby’s in 2007 for $385,000.

Christie’s started its series on January 24, with 49 lots of silver selling for $1,181,675. Among pieces made before 1820, a Boston teapot with the mark of Paul Revere Jr, 1782, fetched $230,500 from an American institution.  It is one of five known drum-shaped teapots by Revere.

A set of six baluster-form silver canns by Daniel Boyer of Boston, circa 1750, with heraldic engravings, went to an absentee bidder for $79,300.

Embellished with the coat of arms of Jefferson and the monogram of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge (1831–1920), a Continental silver plate, circa 1750, went to a phone bidder for $68,500, well above its $1/1,500 estimate. By family tradition, it sold with Monticello’s contents in 1827.

With a worldwide clientele, silver by Tiffany & Company is a sure bet. A round, hammered silver, mixed metal and hardstone three-piece tea service, circa 1880, garnered top honors, selling to an Asian private buyer by phone for $122,500. A flatware service in the popular Chrysanthemum pattern, circa 1890, crossed the block at $98,000, selling to a US private buyer bidding by phone.

Christie’s wrapped up its series of sales with English pottery and Chinese Export art this year, cataloged with American decorative arts. The robust session generated $2,982,400 on 148 lots and was 91 percent sold by lot, perhaps an indication of the global demand for ceramics.

Chinese porcelain secured top prices. Acquired by the consignor in Lisbon in the 1970s, a pair of mid-Eighteenth Century fish bowls painted in the famille rose palette, with detailed scenes of Chinese porcelain, exceeded estimate to sell for $266,500.

Of American interest was a circa 1815 punchbowl painted in sepia, with views of Benjamin Latrobe’s Philadelphia Waterworks and the War of 1812 battle between the USS Constitution and the HMS Guerriere, selling for $134,500. Estimated at $25/40,000, an “Order of the Cincinnati” plate, sold by Elinor Gordon to the late collector H. Richard Dietrich, closed at $98,500. George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens acquired a 1795 plate from the Martha Washington States tea service for $86,500.

English pottery included a circa 1660 London delft pottery dish, 13¾ inches in diameter and decorated in polychrome with the tale of Abraham and Isaac. It went to an American institution for $110,500.

Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.christies.com or 212-636-2000.

This previously unknown Newport Chippendale mahogany block-and-shell carved bureau table that descended in the Pell family of Rhode Island turned up recently in a Manhattan apartment, not far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, site of the last major exhibition of Townsend-Goddard furniture, “John Townsend: Newport Cabinetmaker,” in 2005. Experts are still working out the graphite inscriptions found on the underside of its top drawer. The piece appears to be signed by Jonathan Townsend, John Townsend’s younger brother, and dated 1767. Estimated at $600/900,000, the case piece, which retains its dry, old surface and original brasses but, according to Christie’s, had minor restoration to the feet, left the room at $2,546,500. “Certainly new research will have to be done, but I suspect Jonathan made the case, and John carved the shells. If our math is correct, Jonathan would have likely finished his apprenticeship in 1767,” says Andrew Holter, head of Christie’s American furniture and folk art department.

A particularly good example of “Penn’s Treaty” by the Pennsylvania Quaker folk artist Edward Hicks (1780–1849) caught the attention of bidders G.W. Samaha and Philip Bradley, selling to Bradley for $2,546,500, well exceeding its $600/900,000 estimate. The oil on canvas work, which descended in the artist’s family, is one of more than a dozen known examples, which vary in their details. Another example sold at Christie’s in 2007 for $3,600,000.

Characterized as a masterpiece by Albert Sack in his book The New Fine Points of Furniture, 1993, this circa 1740–60 Boston Queen Anne carved mahogany tea table, with a pinched corner top, carved C-scrolls and a candle slide made $552,500 at Christie’s 1995 auction of the collection of Mr and Mrs Eddy Nicholson. Its value nearly doubled in 18 years, bringing $962,500 from Yardley, Penn., dealer Todd Prickett.

Girandole clocks are relatively rare so expect excitement when they come to market. This one by Aaron Willard’s nephew, Lemuel Curtis (1790–1857), of Concord, Mass., is signed and dates to around 1820. The eglomise paintwork is attributed to Lemuel’s brother Benjamin S. Curtis (1795–1860), a Boston ornamental painter. It soared past its $60/90,000 estimate to sell to a collector for $578,500.

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