NANTUCKET, MASS. — The expression “make hay while the sun shines” might have been invented to describe Osona Auctions, which works around the clock during high season on the resort island of Nantucket. Between May and December, when the last part-time residents depart for more forgiving climes, the Osonas — Rafael and Gail, their sons and staff — conduct 13 auctions plus a ten-day cash-and-carry marketplace. It is a pace that few auctioneers could match.
The family’s hard work reaps rewards. Over 34 years, the Osonas have built a distinctive business as notable for its strong retail following for its emphasis on items of local interest: whaling artifacts, lightship baskets, marine art and antiques, and paintings by artists who lived on Nantucket or spent considerable time there.
The star is auctioneer Rafael Osona, an old-school showman who believes that, yes, bidders are there to have fun.
“He has a great time engaging the audience. It’s what he really enjoys,” says Gail.
For Osona’s big cataloged Americana, fine art and marine sale on August 2, Rafael arrived at the preview with a merry toot of a horn in the ultimate beach buggy, an open-air 1959 Fiat Jolly 600 with wicker seats. He later sold the car for $70,200 to a delighted, albeit somewhat startled, man standing in the rear of the Osona salesroom, the American Legion Hall at 21 Washington Street.
“I’ve sold cars and boats but never planes,” Osona later told Antiques and The Arts Weekly.
The August 2 auction began with Nantucket coin silver, a set of eight circa 1830–37 tablespoons stamped Easton and Sanford fetching $702 and a sauce ladle of circa 1840 by the same maker bringing $293.
The auctioneer proceeded quickly to Nantucket paintings, avidly collected by local residents.
Born in New Bedford, Mass., to Nantucket descendants, Wendell Macy (1845–1913), was represented by two small oils on wood panel — “Seaside Portrait of a Woman Under Umbrella” and the characteristic “Pulling The Dory Ashore,” each $10,530 — and the slightly larger oil on canvas “Floral Still Life,” $9,360. Macy is known to have exhibited his Nantucket work as early as 1872.
Wedged between the Macys was “The Old Mill, Nantucket,” $5,850, by Lincoln J. Ceely (1865–1950), a Nantucket cabinetmaker and clockmaker also known as a carver and painter.
A 1946 exhibition by the Artists’ Association of Nantucket identified Anne Ramsdell Congdon (1873–1958) as one of the five most important painters to work on the island. She is today celebrated for her Nantucket views, which have sold for more than $18,000 at auction. Somewhat less desirable in this venue, a New Hampshire scene, “”Church of Litchfield from Thornton’s Ferry,” a 23-by-17½-inch oil, signed and dated 1925, made $7,020.
Jane Brewster Reid (1862–1966) was painted on the island between 1891 and the 1930s. Her watercolor on paper “Sconset Pump,” a local view, achieved $8,190, while an oil, “View of Stone Alley,” made $1,638.
A bidder paid $12,870 for a signed and dated 1911 painted relief carving of a flying shell drake by self-taught Nantucket artist James Walter Folger (1851–1918).
The day’s top painting, $57,330, was by Cape Cod artist Ralph E. Cahoon, Jr (1910–1982), who depicted the island’s historic Brant Point lighthouse, first constructed in 1746, with a sailor and mermaids.
Among Nantucket decorative arts, a Davis Hall (1828–1905) lightship basket, dated 1903 and inscribed to Mrs Horatio Hall, fetched $2,106, while a unique circa 1950–60 friendship basket by Sherwin Boyer (1907–1964) brought $2,925. Decorated with inlaid panels depicting ships and the inscription “Gift to Susan,” a fitted Nineteenth Century sewing box garnered $2,633.
Leading sales of whaling art and artifacts, a handwritten journal describing the three-year voyage of the Golconda, which departed New Bedford, Mass., in 1836, sold to a California collector in the room for $53,820. Written by Francis Harrison, the volume is profusely illustrated with 320 whale stamps, 76 ship stamps and numerous drawings of scenic venues along the way.
The auctioneer elicited a bid of $35,100 for the circa 1800 Minerve, an English or French prisoner-of-war ship model of boxwood, baleen and ivory that, housed in a custom glass case, measured 19 inches long.
Rounding out the selection were lots with off-island appeal. Among them were the signed Jane Peterson oil on canvas “Prams Along The Beach,” $21,060; “Marblehead Moonlight,” by the contemporary New Zealand artist Anthony D. Blake (b 1951), $12,870; a circa 1930s carved and painted eagle plaque, $8,190; a pair of English Minton majolica garden seats in the “Passion Flower” pattern, $11,700; and a 16-inch strand of South Sea pearls, $15,210.
The Osonas barely paused before proceeding to their next big event; the August 23 auction of the contents of the Hadwen-Wright House. For decades, this majestic Greek Revival mansion at 94 Main Street in Nantucket served as the home of Washington D.C., and Boston attorney John A. Lodge and his wife Katherine, an avid collector of marine and China Trade art and antiques.
“The contents of the house represent one of the last large intact collections on the island. The family was here for 50 or 60 years,” notes Gail Osona.
Those looking for a bunk might consider the 3,600-square-foot property, on the market for $4.9 million. Built in 1847, the house features a sweeping spiral staircase and a magnificent, dome-topped ballroom where President Grant was once entertained.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 508-228-3942 or www.rafaelosonaauctions.com.