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Collector’s pieces: Lewis Scranton Americana auction tops $1,000,000

By | Jane Viator

On May 21, Skinner held an auction of fine Americana that was notable on several counts.

The consigner, Lewis Scranton, is a long-time Connecticut dealer specializing in glaze-decorated slipware; 18th century Connecticut furniture; silhouettes and portrait miniatures; and domestic ironware.

He requested “an old-fashioned, on-site auction in the backyard.” He also stipulated no reserves and no buyers’ premiums. He was even reluctant to have published pre-auction estimates, a requirement of the on-line bidding system.

The 395 lots represented Scranton’s private collection. He had not previously offered for sale any of these pieces of America’s past. They were his personal favorites from sixty years of discerning acquisition.

Another unusual feature: the sale was held offsite in Killingworth, Connecticut, where Scranton’s home and business are located. This marks the first time in many years that Skinner has held an auction at a venue other than its own galleries in Massachusetts.

The result was, as Skinner’s Americana expert Chris Fox stated, an old-fashioned auction that was an event and an experience in itself. Many of the 350 auction-goers spoke about the nostalgia that brought them to attend, and the exceptional quality of the offerings that prompted them to bid.

It’s about time

Steve Fletcher, Skinner’s executive Vice-President and chief auctioneer, explained that Scranton approached Skinner some time ago about the eventual sale of his collection.

Scranton emphasized that he was not retiring from the antiques business. But for passionate collectors, their choicest possessions are members of the family. He felt that it was time to place this portion of his collection in the hands of new owners who would care about and for these pieces of history as he has done.

In fact, the auction successfully incorporated old and new technology. It was a happy and very personal event, a gathering under the tent of family and friends. And many successful bids were made by phone and on-line.


The top lot was an 18th century 68-inch tall two-light brass and iron candle stand. (Lot 116, sold for $36,000). Fletcher noted that the object is distinguished for its sculptural beauty, very large size, and excellent condition. Scranton acquired it from descendants of the maker, whose name is known and was disclosed to the buyer. This impeccable provenance is rare for a utilitarian object such as this, which unlike much furniture and art work is rarely signed or labeled.

Steve’s favorite was the child’s red-painted maple settle, Lot 137. It was notable for its wonderful finish and contours. Estimated at $1,500-2,000, this little piece with elegant scrolled arms and original surface realized $18,000.

Small is beautiful

The auctioneers commented that smalls are beautiful, in this sale and in the overall antiques market.

Lot 34, a turned wood, painted sander (the pre-20th-century version of blotting paper) went for $4,250, far above its estimate of $400-800.

Another small high achiever was a miniature cobalt-decorated conjoined gemel stoneware jug, Lot 94. Only 3 inches tall, this unusual form sold for $11,000, over an estimate of $1,000-2,000.

Portrait silhouettes, a favorite mid-19th century form rarely measuring more than 4 by 5 inches, were well represented in the sale and sold mostly at or above estimates. One standout was Lot 90, a portrait of a young lad in its original painted frame. This piece, attributed to James Hosley Whitcomb, sold for $7,500.

The take-away

It’s often said that “the antiques marketplace isn’t what it used to be.” It is certainly true that collecting like everything else has its fads and fashions.

The Scranton auction is Exhibit A for another truth: the best of the best is timeless, and will always find eager buyers. Steve Fletcher summed up the success of this event this way: “Lew’s auction had all the right ingredients: the property itself; the owner’s personality, skills and reputation; the surroundings; and the pre-sale viewings that Scranton offered to many interested potential buyers.”

All prices realized in the May 21 Scranton sale are available online at www.skinnerinc.com.

About Skinner Inc.

Skinner auctions draw international interest from buyers and consignors alike, with material regularly achieving record prices. The company’s auction and appraisal services focus on fine art, jewelry, furniture, and decorative arts from around the globe, as well as wine, fine musical instruments, rare books, Asian art, clocks, Judaica, and more. Monthly Skinner Discovery auctions feature a breadth of estate material.

Widely regarded as one of the most trusted names in the business, Skinner appraisers have appeared on the PBS-TV series, Antiques Roadshow, since the show’s inception. Skinner has galleries in Boston and Marlborough, Massachusetts, as well as in New York City and Miami, Florida, with bidders participating in person, by phone, and online. Join auctions live with SkinnerLive! and Bidsquare.

For more information and to read our blog, visit the website at www.skinnerinc.com, find us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.



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