DELAWARE, OHIO —
Some of the Black Friday shopping crowd could be found at Garth’s Auctioneers and Appraisers on Friday, November 27, for the company’s 55th annual Thanksgiving sale. Traditionally the material slated for the Thanksgiving sale has been more formal, but this year’s catalog was full of country furniture and paint decorated pieces, which was clearly a draw for the full house of customers.
Longtime buyers for whom Garth’s has for years been synonymous with Thanksgiving
found themselves in a standing-room-only salesroom, where bidders were vying with absentee and Internet bidders, as well as a bank of phone bidders for a diverse selection of objects spread across 740 lots.
The sale is now down to one day from the historic two-day sale, certainly due in part to
competing for a crowd with the heated rivalry of the Ohio State University/Michigan game that has become a post-Thanksgiving Saturday tradition. That, says Amelia Jeffers, Garth’s president and one of the principal auctioneers, is one of the biggest changes during her 20 years at the business. “When OSU moved the football game to the Saturday after Thanksgiving instead of the Saturday before, we saw a huge drop in traffic,” Jeffers said. “Coupled with changing buying habits, we just found greater success in creating a slightly smaller auction and consolidating it all in one day.”
The sale itself kicked off with fine art. The first 60 lots of the sale ranged from classic
pastoral English landscapes to Salvador Dali prints, but the top lot of the art portion of the sale came early with a Saturday Evening Post cover painting by Vermont artist George Hughes (1907–1990), which offers subtle humor in a scene of two desert travelers meeting in the middle of nowhere with their gas cans and which sold over the phone for $44,400. “That was a nice surprise, of course,” said Jeffers, who owns the company with her husband Jeff. “We did have a conservative estimate, but it even exceeded our optimistic expectations. When two people grab hold of something — well, that’s what makes an auction exciting!”
The following lot, a watercolor painting of an arboreal landscape by Columbus artist Alice Schille (1869-1955), whose work is offered with some regularity at Garth’s, also garnered a lot of attention, selling to a phone bidder for more than triple its low estimate at $8,100.
The Americana portion of the sale opened solidly with an American half-spindle-back
paint-decorated settee with the original floral paint, hammering down to an Internet bidder at $1,750, more evidence that, as Jeffers said, “eBay’s reentry [to the live auction business] has been positive.” Online platforms offer significant levels of exposure, which Jeffers says is important, particularly for the middle market. “No one — no one — has more traffic than eBay and antiques and collectibles were the way eBay got started. We’ve seen commitment at the highest level to make it work and had tremendous support from them.” After all, eBay left the live auction market seven years ago and as Jeffers points out, the world has changed in that time, both the online and the auction worlds, removing some of the obstacles and challenges from the past.
“Auctions are more mainstream now and eBay buyers have become more sophisticated.”
Painted furniture had a good day, including, of course, pieces in the ever-popular color of blue, which was offered on both blanket chests and cupboards.
Another paint-decorated piece in a less traditional shade of blue was a classical chest of
drawers from the collection of former Garth’s owners Tom and Carolyn Porter, which sold in 2004, and brought slightly more this time when it sold to Ohio collectors on the floor for $5,400. A Pennsylvania miniature blanket chest in a vibrant green with white and red floral decoration also brought more at $12,500 than it did when it sold at Garth’s 25 years ago in October of 1990. A dry sink, always a popular form at Midwestern auction houses, having original red paint, also blew past its high estimate of $500 to fetch $1,920 from a phone bidder.
Non-furniture objects also found new homes for the holidays, with a folk art whirligig in
the form of a Union soldier rolling past its $1/1,500 estimate to realize $16,800, while a
Cincinnati Stove Works trade sign of a woman on horseback, purchased in the 1970s before the market saw recasts done in the 1980s, sold for $5,520. Both pieces sold to phone bidders. An American scrimshaw busk with intricate decorative motifs, which included a ship and trees, all colored in red and black, sold online for $2,125. At least one piece which passed during the sale found a buyer soon afterward. An eagle carving attributed to Wilhelm Schimmel passed at $5,000 during the sale but was bought later for $8,400.
If the sale had a theme, however, it was boxes. From slide-lid boxes to document boxes to blanket boxes, boxes drew much of the attention of the sale. One of the surprises of the sale was a decorated document box. With polychrome paint applied in heckerboard and pinwheel designs and an estimate of $1/2,000, it attracted a fair amount of presale attention but nothing that prepared the crowd for the final $63,000 price tag, the high lot for the day. The final bidding came down to a battle between two floor bidders, seemingly glaring at each other as they took turns raising their paddles. Rumor on the auction floor the day of the sale was that the piece had a connection to Somerset County, Penn., and perhaps even to a known maker.
“I try not to name a favorite lot in any auction — that’s a little like naming a favorite child,” said Jeffers, “but in this auction my favorite lot to auction was the document box. Not because of the price necessarily, but because of the psychology involved in selling. I wondered afterward if I had driven the crowd crazy because I went in $1,000 increments until $50,000, but when you’re on the block, you can see if someone is uncertain about something.
Whether it’s with you or the surroundings or the items or the dollars involved, it takes time (even though the entire event happens in a minute or so), to build a bit of trust and
a comfortable tempo. I enjoyed selling the box because I could see that the two bidders really wanted it, and I had to coax and encourage. I had to set boundaries too — a bidder
wanted me to cut the bid to $500 and I told him the crowd was already probably ready to throttle me for one thousands! A new bidder jumped in at the end for the final bid and you could see the looks of disappointment.
I felt sorry for them, but then as Tom Porter always said, ‘God bless the underbidder!’”
Another Pennsylvania maker’s work also performed well. In a sale with several objects decorated by Lancaster County painter Joseph Lehn, including two buckets, the top Lehn lot was a miniature blanket chest with strawberry decoration. Despite a repaired hinge, the bidders pushed the price to $5,938.
Meanwhile, a slide-lid box with a dramatic red and black paint color combination, chip-
carved borders and a central pinwheel, and a provenance for Bill Samaha barreled past a
$4,000 high estimate to sell to a floor bidder for $16,800. Originally cataloged as American and likely Pennsylvanian in origin, by the day of the sale it was thought to be most likely Canadian.
Much of the presale chatter was regarding two Schoharie County, N.Y., blanket chests. The first to sell, inscribed with the initials “N.R.” and a date of 1816 over a ground of dark blue paint, brought $10,200. The second, with a slightly brighter finish and more colorful and effusive decoration, ultimately sold over the phone for $34,800. The sale wrapped up around 7 pm. Although the crowd had thinned considerably as the day wore on, the Thanksgiving sale is a nostalgic one for the regulars at Garth’s including Jeffers.
“The sale has changed some over the years, but it also changed how we spend the weekend. We got married the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” Jeffers said. “Tom and Carolyn Porter rsvp’d as a ‘no’ and I called to ask what would keep them from coming. Carolyn said, ‘Honey, we have an auction!’ At the time, I thought, ‘But we’re only getting married once!’ I wish she would have just told me to change the date!”
No anniversary celebrations may be on the calendar, but buoyed by a holiday spirit and
perhaps the weather (unusually warm for late November in Ohio) and anchored with the
country Americana Garth’s is known for, this 55th annual Thanksgiving sale was one of
the auction house’s strongest Thanksgiving offerings in recent years and that’s certainly
as good a gift as any.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For more information, www.garths.com or 740-362-4771.