Paint played a pivotal role during the 55th annual Thanksgiving Americana sale held by Garth’s Auctions on November 27, 2015, in Delaware, Ohio. Not that anyone was surprised. Garth’s is known for great pieces in early paint, and on Black Friday color was king.
Topping the sale was a document box with its original decoration of checkered ends and central pinwheels, all freehand painted within incised lines. The darkened varnish somewhat subdued the colors of cream and orange on a black ground, but bidders still chased the box with abandon. It sold for $63,000 (including buyer’s premium), nowhere near its $1000/2000 estimate.
Garth’s cataloged the box simply as American and dated it to the mid-19th century. “It was Somerset County, Pennsylvania, I found out afterward,” said Amelia Jeffers, president of the auction house. “It was heavy Pennsylvania buyers all over the phone, all over the room. It was strong Pennsylvania buying all day.”
The price might have turned a few heads, but the interest wasn’t surprising. “We sell a lot of painted furniture and a lot of painted smalls,” said Jeffers. “Paint seems to be the only thing propping furniture up these days, unless it’s a great form. Great form and good early condition still did well,” she noted of brown furniture.
There was plenty of paint to go around, and buyers continued to favor small items that fit about anywhere. Boxes were especially popular, with a chip-carved and paint-decorated slide-lid box selling for $16,800 against a $2000/4000 estimate. Possibly from Quebec and dating to the early 19th century, the pine box had its original red, black, and cream paint with a design of pinwheels within sawtooth borders.
The Quebec attribution came late; the box was originally cataloged as likely being from Pennsylvania. The change came after Jeffers posted an image of the box on social media a week before the auction. She heard from a man in Canada who said he had owned the box years ago. “He said, ‘That box was the first thing I ever picked. I picked it out of a house in Quebec,’” Jeffers recalled. “That Canadian market is strong.”
Then again, the American market is doing just fine too. A pine blanket chest from Schoharie County, New York, dated 1824 and having its original paint decoration that included an eagle, flowers, and vines on a blue ground, sold for $34,800, while a second Schoharie County pine blanket chest, dated 1816 and decorated with painted scrolling floral vines on a dark blue ground, realized $10,200.
It wasn’t just a day for painted furniture. Other Americana saw strong activity. That was evident from the start, when a small session of artwork yielded original cover art for the Saturday Evening Post. Out of Gas, an oil on canvas by George Hughes (1907-1990), depicts two figures, each carrying an empty gas can, walking toward one another on a desert road. Used for the issue of September 2, 1961, the painting sold for $44,400, well above its $12,000/18,000 estimate.
Hughes completed 115 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, but his isn’t a household name, as is Norman Rockwell’s. “The artist doesn’t have a huge market, but I think any time you have something as iconic as the Saturday Evening Post original artwork, it just takes off,” said Jeffers.
Iconic is one thing. Condition is another. Among the pieces that were passed during the sale and sold afterward was a cigar-store figure in the form of an Indian princess holding tobacco leaves. The paint was fully restored, the tobacco leaves were reglued, the wooden figure was cracked, and part of the base was likely replaced. Estimated at $15,000/25,000, it eventually sold for $12,000. Ironically, three people showed interest in the figure after it had been passed, noted Jeffers.
The same scenario played out with an eagle carving by Wilhelm Schimmel (1817-1890). Having a crosshatched design, original paint, and a 15" wingspan, it went to the auction block with a $10,000/15,000 estimate, was passed, and sold afterward for $8400.
There was no hesitation on other items, including several pieces of folk art. A whirligig in the form of a Union soldier, dating to the third quarter of the 19th century, having its original paint and sword-shaped paddles, on a later base, 24½" high overall, sold for $16,800, well above its estimate. A double-sided, painted sheet steel figure of an Indian, late 19th or early 20th century, 53½" high plus a modern stand, brought $15,000, also above its estimate.
In the folk art market, buyers are looking for 19th-century items that are “a little funky, folksy,” according to Jeffers. “That market is strong, strong, strong. That is a sweet spot for us. We have a lot of people who watch for that with us and are a little silly about it.”
Jeffers credited Garth’s consignors for continuing to supply great material. “We had some of the right ingredients,” she said. “We had some items from a handful of collections that are very strong—people with not only good eyes, but who had a long time to build a collection, who had the resources to build a collection, and who took their time.”
For more information, contact Garth’s at (740) 362-4771 or visit the website (www.garths.com).
Originally published in the March 2016 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2015 Maine Antique Digest - - See more at: http://www.maineantiquedigest.com/stories/the-55th-annual-thanksgiving-americana-auction/5551#sthash.7dzBfeYz.dpuf