Country Americana at Garth's
Analyze the country Americana sale held in Delaware, Ohio, by Garth’s Auctions on March 18, and three things stick out. 1) When it comes to furniture, sometimes brown is beautiful. 2) In an already soft market for Oriental rugs, too much is certainly not a good thing. 3) People throw away the darndest things.
The brown furniture came into play with the top lot of the day, a Delaware Valley Queen Anne dressing table in cherry and mahogany that sold for $3720 (including buyer’s premium). A comfortable size at 28" high x 32" wide, the table had a one-board top with molded edges, a scalloped apron, three drawers with original brasses, and cabriole legs with subtle ankles over hoof feet.
In this case, form was everything, especially at a time when brown furniture is still working to regain interest in the marketplace. Jeff Jeffers, CEO of Garth’s, was pleased with the bidding but noted, “Possibly a Rhode Island attribution there could have tipped the scale a little bit.”
The legs clearly stood out on an otherwise typical piece. “It was a pretty interesting leg design, pretty interesting carved foot and ankle with kind of an anklebone detail,” said Jeffers. “You don’t see that often in American furniture; it’s more of an English or Irish execution.” The table came from a private consignor in Connecticut.
The final bid, it could be said, was by design. “At the end of the day, if we have a discussion about prices, form is going to drive prices more than any other attribute,” Jeffers added.
If the carved ankles on the dressing table were subtle, the Oriental rugs in the auction were as obvious as a swift kick in the shins. Like brown furniture, Oriental rugs have experienced a decline. On this day, the vast number of examples (about 110 lots, comprising roughly 30% of the sale) was just too much. It didn’t take many words to sum up the results. “Rugs were soft,” said Jeffers.
However, he put a bit of an asterisk next to his statement. “These were traditional patterns. Anything that had any sort of contemporary sense about it had interest,” he noted. The top example was a 3'2" x 12'2" Persian Karadjah runner that sold for $1200.
A spongy marketplace isn’t always bad. “I think that there are good opportunities for buyers when it comes to rugs today,” said Jeffers.
As with anything on the antiques market, education and intimidation can also affect buying. “I think that’s baked into it,” said Jeffers. “The chasm between retail and auction prices has set a precedent and factors in too. They’re hard to understand sometimes. It’s hard to understand why the value of this should be X and that should be Y. It feels to me that’s a harder thing to understand than a differential in furniture or folk art or glass, for example.”
It’s not the only thing that’s hard to understand. How about this? How does a fraktur end up in the trash?
That was the story behind a fragmentary fraktur birth certificate by David Cordier that sold for $3375. The ink on paper work had been cut down to about two-thirds of its original size. Nonetheless, it still clearly showed the central text in English and German, recording the 1805 birth of Hana Oberholser. More significant were the faces, tulips, and distlefinks that illustrated the piece.
Cordier also had created a fraktur baptism certificate for Oberholser. That piece, dated 1816, is owned by the American Folk Art Museum, having come out of the collection of Ralph Esmerian. Oberholser was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and died in Montgomery County, Ohio, in 1839.
Jeffers described the birth fraktur as being done in a “fabulous hand.” He added, “The detail is exceptional.” So is the back story.
“This was relegated to the trash,” he said. The fraktur had been found in a garbage can at an auction. “I think the belief was that it was a partial, not worth anything.” A dealer who spotted the discarded folk art knew that it had value and saved it.
Other examples of Cordier’s work have brought well into five figures. The value of this one was held back by the fact that it wasn’t whole. However, even as a partial fraktur that wasn’t centered in the frame, it had a good look.
“It was a neat, offset way that this ended up,” said Jeffers. “It looked kind of good in the frame, even as a fragment. Proportionally, most everything was there. It wasn’t a distasteful or visually challenging fragment. It had kind of a nice, offset look, almost modern in a way, and I think that helped too.”
That wasn’t the only item tossed in the trash. Also found with the fraktur was a clipping with “PERSEVERE” in pen and ink. Believed to be of Pennsylvania or Ohio origin and dating to the first quarter of the 19th century, the 2¾" x 7¼" calligraphic work on paper had a few minor problems, including tack holes and “Penmanship” typed above the lettering. Even so, it sold for $406. Garth’s catalog noted that it was possibly made by Cordier.
The rest of the auction was typical fare for Garth’s, as far as country Americana is concerned. While it wasn’t necessarily the best material the auction house will handle in 2017, it provided a look at the middle market.
“It’s hard sometimes to rely on information that’s from the pulse that’s taken from within the silo,” said Jeffers. “You can have an auction, and that doesn’t necessarily mean what’s happening in the industry. You can go to a show, and that doesn’t necessarily mean what’s happening in the industry.”
While the best material continues to bring the most interest, the rest of the market can be harder to predict. “It’s the middle and the lower that’s going a little without favor today. It’s a classic supply-and-demand formula,” he added. “But good stuff, absolutely, people are still traveling for good things.”
The good things included a pair of unsigned oil on canvas portraits of a husband and wife, attributed to Ammi Phillips (1788-1865), that sold for $3000. Jeffers said folk portraits are “showing a little rebound.”
Also selling well was a late 18th-century American or English linsey-woolsey bed cover in indigo blue with soft gold on the reverse. Hand quilted with blue thread in a floral design, three widths joined, the 86" x 92" textile sold for $1920, more than double the high estimate. The color made all the difference. “Cobalt might not be the scarcest of colors in the object, but it may be the most desirable,” said Jeffers. “And the condition was pretty strong.”
He noted something else about the bed cover. “It’s a slight indication people are putting money into things they can use.”
The same holds true with the right piece of furniture. Beds and slant-front desks can still be a tough sell, but a wall cupboard in the right size—especially one in a desirable color of old paint—practically sells itself. The best one offered was of pine with old blue paint over earlier yellow and having a tall door with 18 panes of glass, a nicely scalloped skirt, and an attractive size, 80½" high x 38" wide. It sold for $2280.
For more information, contact Garth’s at (740) 362-4771 or visit the website (www.garths.com).
Desirable American smalls included an early 20th-century patriotic shield-shaped frame of plywood, 23" x 18", with stars and stripes painted in red, white, and blue all around an oval opening. It sold for $469, and an 8¼" x 14¼" naïve oil on artist board painting of a Federal house on a busy street, second half of the 19th century, initialed, stopped at $900.
Originally published in the June 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest - See more at: https://www.maineantiquedigest.com/stories/country-americana/6325