Americana Auction at Garth’s
Size played a significant role in the strong bidding for many lots during the annual Thanksgiving Americana auction held by Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers, Columbus, Ohio. Because of the ongoing pandemic, the sale was conducted as an online-only event that ended on December 5.
Leading the auction were two beds from the Workshops of David T. Smith, Morrow, Ohio. A queen-size tiger maple bed having posts from the early 19th century but with a new headboard, footboard, and rails, 50" high, sold for $5000 (includes buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $1500/3000, while a king-size bed in green paint with red and yellow highlights, also having new construction built around period posts, 50" high, topped at $4375 (est. $2000/4000). The interest largely came down to size and aesthetics.
“David T. Smith’s work is pretty synonymous with good-looking country painted collections,” said Jeff Jeffers, Garth’s CEO and principal auctioneer. “The beds are period posts with elongated head- and footboards. In this new division that he’s created, he’s wanting to pay some homage to the craftsmanship of turning these posts, yet providing the market with a king-size product, which as we all know didn’t really exist in the period. So while the price causes one maybe, and I’ll stress maybe, to scratch their head for a moment, the paint and the look is exciting, and the size is nonexistent at best. And the bed is, as we all know, one of those forms in the market today that is down because of its contemporary comforts. David has resolved that.”
In that manner, Jeffers noted, competitive bidding for the beds wasn’t surprising. “Bidders have intuitively understood the value. They haven’t hemmed and hawed around and said, ‘Oh, that’s a lot of money.’ They understood wonderful look, contemporary-day comforts, name brand, period posts. They bid with enthusiasm on these beds,” he said.
Size, big and small, played significant roles in other lots. A paint-decorated miniature blanket chest from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the red case having vinegar sponging in mustard yellow, on black feet, sold for $2875 (est. $200/400). Dating to the second quarter of the 19th century, the blanket chest stood 9" high x 13½" wide. “Anytime you get a decorated miniature, eyes open a little wider,” said Jeffers.
There were also some stare-worthy objects, including some sizable painted-canvas circus banners. The best example was “The Handicap.” Signed “C. Sigler” and showing monkeys and racecars, the banner dated to the third quarter of the 20th century. Measuring 7'7" x 9'8", it sold for $2250 (est. $600/1200).
When it comes to circus banners, size is significant, both for attracting attention and, in a way, discouraging it. After all, not everyone has the space to hang such a thing. But circus banners are about much more than mere dimensions.
“It’s folk art, and it’s folk art in a way that very few other folk-art categories can relate,” said Jeffers. “We’re talking about size and scale here, and we’re talking about subject matter. Those are the primary drivers of the interest. There’s such great lore around the circus, generally. So these have been fun to handle. And they come fundamentally from two or three different collections. It’s not as if there is one person sitting there with them.”
Other top lots in the auction included an 1841 New York coverlet with a George Washington theme in red and white. All four corner blocks showed Washington on horseback and were dated and lettered “United We Stand Divided We Fall” over “Washington / J. Cunningham / Weaver. N. Hartford / Oneida. Co. N. York.” The border had shield-breasted, spread-wing eagles, with “Under This We Prosper” below the eagles on each end. The body of the coverlet featured floral medallions. Measuring 90" x 72", the coverlet sold for $4375 (est. $600/800).
The textile market as a whole has regained a bit of oomph, according to Jeffers. “There’s a little bit of momentum back in textiles for any number of reasons,” he said. “It’s a great way to provide color in a room, in a collection.” Rare examples like the Washington coverlet are bringing good money, he noted. “Five or ten years ago you wouldn’t have seen a $3500 price.”
Artwork saw active bidding throughout the sale. Winter Tranquility by Massachusetts/Vermont artist Aldro Hibbard (1886-1972), oil on artist’s board, signed, depicting a winter landscape looking down at farm buildings in a valley, 16" x 20", sold for $4375 (est. $3000/4000), while Cows Grazing by Pennsylvania artist Hermann Herzog (1832-1932), oil on canvas, signed, 14" x 19", brought $3250 (est. $2000/3000).
Smalls in the sale included two round painted pantry boxes that sold for $2375 each, both from the second half of the 19th century. One was in original blue paint and measured 4" high x 8½" diameter (est. $200/400). The other was in layers of gray paint and stood 3½" high x 6" diameter (est. $150/300). Each had lapped seams and iron tacks.
Good smalls have traditionally benefited from their curb appeal. “Carolyn Porter [former owner of Garth’s] used to say, ‘People go to auctions for the furniture. They end up buying smalls.’ To appreciate the paint on a small piece, this remains a tactile experience,” said Jeffers. For items such as the pantry boxes, paint equals value. “Good color and originality always drive that value,” he added.
Porter’s theory certainly has merit, but how have impulse purchases been affected in the age of COVID-19, when the pandemic has auction house doors closed on sale day and people at home, bidding from a computer or smartphone?
Jeffers sees the glass half full. Online auctions have become so ubiquitous during the pandemic that buyers have adapted. They’re still buying, not just the things they initially searched for, but also other antiques that have them unexpectedly clicking through to a lot they originally hadn’t considered.
“I think that buying, particularly through the auction method, has its own unique set of psychological behaviors, and I think that impulsivity is showing up online as well,” Jeffers said.
At Garth’s, one key to replacing the in-person experience of examining an item has been to offer exceptional cataloging. “Our photography right now, I believe, is at one of its highest levels,” he said. “I don’t have a fear about missing bidding activity based on impulsivity.”
It comes down to showing off color, scale, and surface, he added. “The attributes of these objects are what triggers impulsivity, and I think we’re getting that.”
He credited his staff. “Our production team challenges themselves and each other every time we put an auction together.”
Even with the success of online-only sales, Jeffers is looking forward to bringing floor bidding back to Garth’s home, the Municipal Light Plant. He said that might happen as early as spring. For more information, phone Garth’s at (740) 362-4771 or visit (www.garths.com).
Originally published in the April 2022 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2022 Maine Antique Digest -
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