By Jane Viator
Skinner’s summer Americana auction took place on August 14 and 15. 772 lots were offered, totaling over $2.3 million with buyer’s premium. Stephen Fletcher, chief auctioneer and Skinner executive vice-president, noted that the sale’s success demonstrates the strength of this part of the market. “Lively” is his word for it.
Five of the top ten lots were paintings:
♦ Portrait of Electa Snow Pierce, top seller of the two-day sale, is an iconic example of the prized work of Ruth and Samuel Shute. The watercolor is distinguished by its well-preserved color and touches of gold foil. The subject, a pretty young woman in her choicest finery, is always popular; scowling old gentlemen have less appeal to buyers. (Lot 519, sold for $339,000)
♦ Two children’s portraits by Matthew Prior (Lots 489, sold for $19,680, and 490, sold for $25,830) exceeded their pre-auction estimates as did Lot 552, sold for $30,750 , a Sheldon Peck portrait of a pensive little girl in her best sprigged muslin dress and gold-bead necklace. These now-treasured examples of folk art have not always received the respect they enjoy today; this painting had once been used as a shelf according to a buyer who knew its history.
♦ Stephen Fletcher especially admired Lot 484, which nearly tripled its estimate and sold at $18,450. This watercolor portrait of a courting couple in an idyllic garden setting, Fletcher says, is charming and convincingly intimate. The young people are very much absorbed in one another and seemingly unconscious of the spectator/artist.
It’s a small world
Lot 2, a miniature box with till, was in the top ten pieces with a sale price of $30,750. Why the big price for such a small item—7 ½ inches long? Because it’s very early, beautifully made, and has great paint decoration. It was purchased by a noted Americana dealer who’d bought it for $1,400 when he was a teenager, re-sold it, and now had to have it back. Painted boxes sell well as a category, and in Fletcher’s opinion, “This was the best early small box Skinner has sold in years.”
Another diminutive piece that achieved a grown-up price of $8,610 (over ten times estimate) was Lot 219, a carved and paint-decorated mirror. Five inches high, with colorful paint, it reflects the strong market for eye-catching smalls.
Doing well, thank you
Prices in some furniture categories have softened, as people live in smaller spaces and have different spending priorities compared to previous generations. But American informal furniture still enjoys a brisk market. Two furniture lots were in the top ten.
Lot 51, a pair of exceptional Windsors with great turnings and fine paint, sold for $55,350. Stephen Fletcher calls them “the best of an iconic form.” If chairs were people, these with their elegant presence and shapely outlines would be supermodels.
A dome-top pine trunk with exuberant floral decoration soared over estimate of $6,000-8,000 to bring $24,600. Another high-achieving painted piece was Lot 580, a one-drawer stand with graining, stenciling, and free-hand decoration. Estimated at $800-1,200, it sold for $8,610.
“Condition, condition, condition” is a mantra among collectors. Restoration deflates values drastically. Fletcher notes that the exceptional quality and original condition of the paint helped the prices of all these pieces.
The rest of the story
High prices were realized for some items that might be described as outliers in the broad category of Americana.
Lot 747, a 19th-century sand art bottle by Andrew Clemens brought $81,180, a record auction price for the work of this Iowa deaf-mute. Patriotic motifs and an intact original label helped elevate the sale far above estimate.
The carved wood plaque of a striped bass featured on the catalog cover, Lot 628, was another piece in the top ten. It is the work of renowned wood carver Leander Allen Plummer II, who called his realistic creations “relief paintings.” The large carving was commissioned by a Massachusetts doctor and remained in his family from its completion in 1911 until this sale.
Fletcher notes that this highly successful auction highlights the growing role of technology.
In addition to 1128 registered bidder paddles there was a large telephone and on-line presence; cyberspace is not just for futurists. Technology makes auctions more open, accessible and transparent than ever.
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 PBS-TV’s 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 or Instagram.