Auctions Fairs USA

Americana week pulls in uneven results

Furniture fares well at auction and paintings sell at the Winter Antiques fair but specialists are still concerned about the slowdown in the market

The needlepoint collection of Betty Ring was popular, with over 500 people taking part in the sale. The top lot was a Burlington County sampler, 1807, by Mary Antrim of a home with farmyard animals selling for $1.1m (est $80,000-$120,000)

The blitz of sales and fairs of Americana week in New York (16-22 January) scored some mixed results. The auctions were marked by heavy phone and online bidding with early antiques prized by collectors.

Christie’s 586-lot sales (19, 20 and 23 January) pulled in $24.8m with furnishings doing well. At their first sale, a George Washington silver wine cooler, 1790, which was presented by America’s first President to his fellow founding father Alexander Hamilton and remained in that family, was bought by a phone bidder for $782,500 (est $400,000-$600,000).

A Chippendale mahogany block-and-shell document cabinet, around 1755, signed by the Newport, Rhode Island cabinet-maker John Townsend, skipped over its more than $1m estimate and scored $3.4m, setting a record for that type of furniture. It went to an anonymous buyer.

The Yardley, Pennsylvania dealership C.L. Prickett took three of the top ten furniture lots including a William and Mary Boston maple easy chair lacking its upholstery, around 1710, for $542,500 (est $80,000-$120,000). “It’s totally unrestored, which makes it a rarity,” said Todd Prickett.

John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, 1827-38, four-volume set at over three feet in height, sold for $7.9m ($7m-$10m), the third highest price for a printed book at auction.

Sotheby’s 514-lot auctions (20, 21 and 22 January) rang up $17.9m. Among the featured lots was the Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Arnold mahogany high chest, 1756, signed and dated by John Townsend, which descended in the same family for 255 years and still had its original hardware and finish. It made $3.5m (est $2m-$3m).

The needlepoint collection of Betty Ring was popular with over 500 people taking part in the sale. The top lot was a Burlington County sampler, 1807, by Mary Antrim of a home with farmyard animals selling for $1.1m (est $80,000-$120,000). The Woodbury, Connecticut dealer David Schorsch bought it reportedly for the Americana collector Jane Katcher.

Meanwhile, the sales, the Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory (until 29 January) opened to a packed vernissage on 19 January with interior design trade elite like Mario Buatta and Bunny Williams out in full force, while the presence of President Obama only a few blocks away snarled traffic.

With a number of folk art dealers on the floor, the closing of the American Folk Art Museum’s main building just down the street from the Museum of Modern Art was a common concern. “It’s disappointing and there will be an adjustment in collector interest,” said Edwin Hild, who heads up Olde Hope Antiques in New Hope, Pennsylvania. “The economy has had a far greater impact and the middle market has dried up.” Higher priced fare on his stand, like an Angel Gabriel sheet iron and copper weather vane, 1846, by Wheldon & Fisher priced at $675,000, a carved wood figure of Goddess Liberty, 1870, by M.J. Seelig at $525,000 and a Virginia painted blanket chest, 1800, at $170,000, remained unsold.

A brighter spot appeared to be American painting. Alexander Acevedo, who heads up the Manhattan Alexander Gallery, sold three oil paintings on the opening night. Among them were Frederic Edwin Church’s Cayembe, 1858, for $640,000; James Goodwyn Clonney’s What a Catch!, 1855, for $450,000; and John William Casilear Twilight, 1875, for $115,000. “Both the Crystal Bridges Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new American Wing with its 25 galleries have rejuvenated the American paintings market,” said Acevedo. “Now, more academic pictures are a draw.” Steeper ticket paintings like John Singer Sargent’s Marionettes, 1903, for $9.5m and John Trumbull’s Portrait of George Washington, 1793, for $3.5m with Adelson Galleries, were still available Tuesday, as we posted this report.

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