PLAINFIELD, N.H. — For William Smith, Inc’s 46th Annual Labor Day auction on September 2, Billy Smith and his hardworking staff gathered consignments from as far away as Florida and as close as Norwich, Vt. Objects came from towns and cities like Greenwich, Conn., Burlington and Poultney, Vt., Henniker and Jaffrey, N.H., Sudbury, Mass., and Naples, Fla. A sale of this quality and variety takes months of preparation, picking just the right mix of objects for a balanced and interesting sale. Billy and his knowledgeable and experienced crew choose items on their merit as unusual or rare objects, so it is a diverse selection of age, country of origin and category. Everything from a complex Rolex chronometer wristwatch to a primitive Eighteenth Century hooded step back cupboard crossed the block. The Rolex watch, which brought $19,250, was sold to a collector, who was delighted with the acquisition. The hooded cupboard, a rare form in American furniture discovered in the oldest house in Poultney, realized $9,900.
Billy is a second-generation auctioneer, and he has certainly put his mark on the business. He told me the story of a Labor Day sale several years ago, the last one conducted underneath a tent. A major consignor was sitting in the front row during an epic rain storm and was pleased with the way the sale was going until the tent — as tents will do — pitched a lot of water right into her lap. Bill looked at his right-hand man and fellow auctioneer, Ken Labnon, and they agreed that it was time to build a bigger, better gallery.
The gallery is spacious, well lit, with plenty of room to display and conduct a large sale. The chairs are very comfortable, and there are large screen monitors, which allow any spectator in the seating area to view what is being offered for sale. And, of course, there is the requisite absentee/telephone bidding loft. The auction house does not participate in any Internet bidding, so phone and absentee bids are crucial to reaching competitive results. It is a successful mix of the way things were done with just enough technology for a major auction to run smoothly, and with all of this, it still holds to a ten percent buyer’s premium. Billy and I had a lengthy discussion about how difficult it is for him to compete against the larger auction houses that charge a 15 to 20 percent buyer’s premium. There were just over 500 lots and the sale totaled $852,500, excellent results for a one-day sale and a testament to hard work and quality customer service.
The auction started promptly at 10 am to a standing-room-only crowd. This was a relief to me. As a young dealer, I knew Billy’s dad, Bill Smith, who was well known for his casual attitude, often starting a 10 am sale at 10:15 or 10:30. This was great if you needed just a tad more time to inspect an item but torture if you really wanted to bid on and hopefully buy lot number one.
The audience was relaxed but attentive after spending time visiting with friends and discussing the offerings. A cup of coffee, a wonderful sticky roll or donut and a chat with your neighbor and it was time to settle in for the duration. A woman seated in the row in front of me noted that she usually ate a healthy breakfast. But with the caterer’s offerings of delicious treats as a temptation, she succumbed to caffeine and sugar and then proceeded to bid with enthusiasm. There was a wine and cheese preview the day before and a preview two hours prior to the auction. The folks in the audience were definitely serious contenders. A large portion of the highest priced items went to those attending the sale. At 1 pm, there was still a full house. Dealers and collectors from New Hampshire, Vermont and as far away as Florida were in attendance.
The third lot of the sale, a Federal candlestand in an old refinished surface was attributed to the Dunlap family school of cabinetmakers. It was a classical, sought-after New Hampshire form and brought $5,775 from a New Hampshire bidder. This piece was consigned by an Atlanta, Ga., woman who had inherited it from a family member in the 1960s. A rare Hepplewhite New Hampshire inlaid mahogany cellaret with a drop panel, referred to as “a little gem” in the catalog, was found in a coastal New Hampshire attic and it took $3,575. This piece looked like a miniature one-drawer blanket chest with a fitted compartment under the lid. A delightful miniature Wells Fargo Express coach, 16 inches long, in red paint with scenes of the White Mountains and the New Hampshire State House on the doors, was being sold for a Henniker, N.H., man and achieved a strong $3,300.
European antiques were a significant part of this sale. A fine near pair of English George II torchieres, carved and parcel-gilt mahogany, with a provenance of P.A.B. Widener, measured 42 inches tall and brought $20,900 from a New York buyer. They were probably made in the same shop at the same time, but the fact that they were similar and not a true pair did suppress the price. They were truly elegant objects. A pair of celestial and terrestrial globes, John Newton, London and dated 1828, on tripod bases and professionally restored, came from the Faulkner Mansion and achieved a strong $63,250. They had sold at Christie’s in 1999 to a London dealer before being restored. The restoration was said to have cost $20,000.
One of my favorite pieces at the auction was a two-part Eighteenth Century English highboy with chinoiserie decoration. The decoration, a Nineteenth Century embellishment, had a lovely mellow tone and was very attractive. The highboy stood 7 feet 3 inches tall, came from Sudbury, Mass., and brought $12,100. A well-proportioned English George III mahogany writing desk with tooled leather top and finely tapered legs achieved a price of $2,310 after competition from two telephone bidders. This is one of those pieces of furniture that has broad appeal. It looks great in a traditional English room setting as well as looking terrific as a nice home for one’s laptop computer in a contemporary setting.
The results of the sale showed that tiger maple furniture is still popular. A nice tiger maple New Hampshire Queen Anne highboy in old finish was found in Burlington, and went to a left bid for $7,700. It stood 5 feet 11 inches tall. In a very unusual form for tiger maple — the magic wood — was a country dry sink with two doors below the well and on a cutout base, which brought a strong $3,630. It sold to a telephone bidder after competition from a very determined bidder in the front row, which had a number of such patrons. A nice Queen Anne tiger maple drop leaf table sold for a reasonable $2,475.
From the Connecticut River Valley area, a nicely proportioned Chippendale cherry tall case clock with a brass dial sold for $6,050, with active bidding from two telephone bidders. A country piece, a diminutive American early Nineteenth Century pine settle with two drawers below the seat, found a new home for $2,090.
Included in the diversity of this sale were a few choice folk art pieces, which after heated bidding brought strong prices. One of these items, a wooden trade sign in the form of a shotgun measured an impressive 7 feet 8 inches long and was displayed outside Iver Johnson’s sporting goods store in Worcester, Mass. It retained most of the original gilding and sold for $7,040. An exceptionally large rooster weathervane, 33 inches tall, was attributed to Fiske & Co. In gilt surface, it sold for $9,075 after active floor bidding to an absentee bidder. A very sweet American portrait of a young girl seated on an Oriental rug and holding a dog was in “as found” condition. It had an elaborate gilt frame with a New York label on the reverse. The 28-by-36-inch painting was purchased for $2,200.
An 8-by-10-inch oil on board fishing scene of three men in a canoe, signed Ogden Pleissner, brought $11,000. It was purchased directly from his Vermont gallery and is accompanied by a letter from the artist’s wife, Marion.
A portrait of “Carmen,” signed William Merritt Chase, spent time in Florida on exhibit at the St Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts in 1965. It had been restored and was accompanied by an appraisal from Hirschl & Adler Gallery. Measuring 21 by 25 inches, it fetched $9,900.
Of local interest was a 39½-by-14½-inch oil on board of a moose hunting scene painted by Paul Sample that sat over the mantel of Sample’s house. It had been consigned by the young couple who purchased the Norwich, Vt., house from Sample’s wife; they were selling it to make renovations to the house. There was still evidence of wall plaster attached to the back of this painting, which finished at $3,575. From a South Woodstock, Vt., collection and a particular favorite of the consignor, an oil on canvas logging scene of Upper Melbourne by noted Canadian artist F.S. Coburn did well at $12,100. A view of Mount Everett in Sheffield, Mass., by artist Henry A. Ferguson sold for $4,180.
Chinese Export porcelain also brought good results. An Eighteenth Century famille rose pattern platter, 15 inches long, garnered $1,650, and a lovely Nineteenth Century blue and white boar’s head tureen and under tray brought a healthy $2,530.
White Mountains paintings are still favorite items to pursue. An oil on canvas measuring 16 by 20 inches, dated 1865 and signed by artist Alexander Wust, went out at $2,475. A Nineteenth Century primitive view of Squam Lake with Mount Washington in the background sold to a bidder in the room for $4,125, while a large oil on canvas of a view of Mount Washington from the Saco River in North Conway, N.H., signed C.W. Knapp, achieved a strong $7,700.
The consignor of a Regina floor model phonograph in working order, 68 inches tall, had good reason to be happy. After driving from his home in Florida to New Hampshire to consign the phonograph to the sale, it brought $15,400 from a buyer in Salt Lake City, Utah.
William Smith auctions may have Billy’s name on it, but it is a family endeavor. Erika Smith, his youngest sister, is a real estate agent, but she makes time in her busy schedule to work the phones before and during the auctions. Young Will Smith and his sister, Abby, are the third generation to help out behind the scenes. Abby spent her time helping out at the jewelry display cases. Young Will worked behind the scenes moving items onto the stage, held items aloft for better viewing and even helped out at the checkout desk. Merilyn Smith, mother and devoted grandmother, is always present to lend a helping hand.
The firm combines the talents of hardworking, patient and knowledgeable folks with years of auction experience to create a business model that works well. Call the gallery for information on an item for sale or to discuss a consignment and you will get personal service. This all adds up to a successful auction business that continues to bring fresh-to-the-market items of great diversity and interest to a very appreciative audience.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
The next major sale for the gallery will be its annual Thanksgiving sale to be conducted on November 30. For information, 603-675-2549 or www.wsmithauction.com.