Collectors Battle For Indian War Shirt At Thomaston Auction Native American Buckskin War Shirt Brings $115,000

THOMASTON, MAINE — A large crowd was on hand for an action-packed, two-day auction at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries over the weekend of May 31 and June 1. The “Spring Auction of Fine Art and Period Furniture, Featuring Important Collections of Native American and Ephemera” also saw huge participation from the Internet and telephone bidders, as well as a large contingent of absentee bids. Substantial prices were realized from the start of the auction until the end.

The assortment of merchandise offered at the auction was once again stellar, with fresh-to-the-market items offered throughout the sale. Auctioneer Kaja Veilleux cited the origin of many of the lots offered as they crossed the block, including homes in Yarmouth and South Freeport, Maine, as well as a large selection of material that was consigned to the gallery during the free appraisal days that the auction house conducts.

Preview for the auction was packed in the days leading up to the sale, resulting in a large number of absentee bids. Competition was fairly even throughout the weekend, with buyers in the gallery claiming a large portion of the items, closely followed by Internet bidders and those executing bids via telephone.

The auction got off to a quick start with a painting by Susanna Adams Winn that had come directly from a Maine home and was being sold to benefit a music school in nearby Portland. Veilleux took time to make several comments about the painting, including the identification of the unusual signature in the form of a carpenter’s saw. “We have sold these in the past, but we never knew who the artist was — now we do,” he said. Pointing to the “saw”-form signature, the auctioneer explained that it represented the artist’s initials — “S.A.W.” The small paining depicting six puppies lined up in a row opened for bidding at $500 and sold moments later for $1,380.

Another Winn painting, this one depicting four cats and also signed with a “saw,” sold a short time later for $1,150.

A brass firehouse lantern with the clear globe engraved “Pawtucket Fire Dept.” followed. It was bid actively, selling at $1,725.

One of the sleepers of the day was a wonderful folk art whirligig in the form of a standing blackamoor figure with a red tailcoat and wearing a fez. The piece, illustrated in Bishop’s Weathervanes and Whirligigs, opened for bidding at only $850 and sold to a buyer on the phone at $1,725.

“When I saw it come through the door during one of our free appraisal days I almost fell over,” said Veilleux of a beaded and fringed buckskin Native American Northern Plains war shirt. The auctioneer related that the consignor carefully removed item after item from the box with Veilleux’s interest growing rapidly. Included was a fringed and beaded leggings, a variety of beaded moccasins, various bags and pouches, knife sheaths and even a bow with a set of arrows.

Veilleux’s smile widened as he related the last item to be pulled from the box, the Hidatsa buckskin shirt with dyed quills and seed bead decoration. The ten lots that came through the door that day made up the old-time collection formed by Harold Putnam of Portland, Maine, and the items had descended in his family ever since.

Fresh to the marketplace, the auction gallery originally felt the shirt to be circa 1880 when it was cataloged, but later determined it to be earlier, circa 1850. From the Dakotas, Missouri River Valley, the shirt retained vibrant color and was in excellent condition with the only concerns involving minor stiffening to the lower extremities of the shirt. With long fringe, buffalo head motif on the neck flap, buffalo hair tassels and a built-in “medicine bag” pouch in the collar, the shirt was stunning.

Attracting attention from collectors around the country, every phone line in the gallery was taken as the lot crossed the auction block. Estimated at $20/30,000, the fringed shirt quickly eclipsed the estimate as collectors battled for the lot. With bidding coming in spirited waves, it sold at $115,000.

The pair of fringed and beaded leggings was offered next. The Northern Plains Indians, Lakota Sioux buckskin leggings with seed bead geometric panels in lavender and blue realized $7,474.

The Lakota Sioux, Oglala, hickory bow with sinew string, measuring 42½ inches long, plus 15 arrows with ash shafts, did well as it sold for more than ten times the presale estimate, bringing $25,875. Lakota Sioux items included a buffalo hide knife sheath with seed bead decoration and metal bell tassels, and a medicine bag with large, fully beaded and fringed flap over bag. Both attracted a great deal of attention and both handily exceeded estimate, bringing $14,950 each.

“We really didn’t know what this was when it first came in, but as soon as the ads broke, the phone started ringing off the wall,” said Veilleux of a rare Turkish framed tile. “People are going nuts over this thing,” he said. “Every phone line is taken and we have had to tell bidders that we can not take any more phone bids and suggested they have a representative attend the auction.”

The unassuming lot, a glazed Iznik architectural tile from the Seventeenth Century, featured the raised enamel decorated fritware developed in the Sixteenth Century and similar examples were typically used in religious buildings and palaces. Measuring approximately 9 by 10 inches, the tile was glazed with red blue and green motifs against a white ground. Modestly estimated at $800–$1,000, the rare tile sold to one of the phone bidders at $39,100.

Another surprise of the auction was a Prior-Hamblin School portrait of a young girl in a white cotton dress, circa 1830. The oil on panel, in lemon gold molded frame, carried an estimate of $2/3,000 and opened at $1,000 for bidding. Consigned from a local home, the lot was pursued by several in the gallery as well as active Internet and phone bidders. Just as it appeared ready to be knocked down to a buyer standing in the rear of the room for $5,000, a phone bidder jumped in at $5,500 and proceeded to push the price to $10,000.

Wearing a look of frustration, the bidder standing in the rear of the gallery returned to his seat. Just as it appeared to be hammering down to the phone bidder, an Internet bidder hit the lot and the piece bounced back and forth with the telephone winning out at $16,100.

Another folky portrait was a naive work of a woman in a white dress with green ribbons by E.E. French. Thought to depict Elizabeth Weeks Daniels of Pittston, Maine, the handsome oil on canvas, signed verso, brought $6,210.

Other paintings in the auction included a Taos School Impressionist painting depicting a mountainous landscape by Ames Taylor Harwood. Titled “Where the Blackbirds Nest,” the desirable work sold for $57,500. A William Mason Brown still life with grapes attracted a great deal of interest, selling at $20,125, while Thomas Mickell Burnham’s oil “Picnic in a Lakeside Swale” went out at $9,200.

A Peter Libbey caved sternboard in the form of an American eagle with shield, flags and tassels caught the eye of collectors, realizing $8,337, while a nice pilot house eagle in original worn paint brought $1,840.

A collection of ephemera included correspondence from Bataille Muse to General George Washington. The lot of 15 items included four personal record transcription of letters to Washington from Muse, who managed his western properties. The lot, estimated at $4/6,000, sold after an active bout of bidding for $11,212. Another lot of correspondence between Muse and Washington containing approximately 70 documents brought $4,312.

A lot of correspondence between Muse and Ferdinando Fairfax, who was the godson of George and Martha Washington and lived with them as a youth, also did well. Fairfax published Plan for Liberating the Negros Within the United States in 1790. The lot of letters brought $6,900.

Other items of interest included an enameled Russian boat-form silver Kovsh in the manner of Gustav Klingert, circa 1880, that sold for $5,462, and a pair of gold candlesticks by Gorham, 17 inches tall, that realized $6,900.

A white gold and diamond and emerald necklace did well at $28,750, a platinum gold and sapphire ring fetched $13,800 and a pair of diamond and sapphire earrings went for $13,225.

Prices include the buyer’s premium.

For additional information, www.thomastonauction.com or 207-354-8141.

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