Americana, Decorative Arts, and Fine Jewelry
Garth’s Auctions held a sale of Americana, decorative arts, and fine jewelry September 9-19. The online-only event was unusual because of its large size (874 lots) and the diverse mix of material, from Windsor chairs to Haitian paintings.
The top lot consisted of two pieces of Chinese porcelain—a bowl with flowers on a yellow ground, the white interior decorated with five bats, 2½" high x 5¾" diameter, and a vase decorated with a scene of a woman and child in a garden, 9½" high. Having blue Qianlong marks and dating to the mid-20th century or earlier, they sold together for $71,875 (including buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $200/400. The buyer was in China.
Interest centered on the bowl. “It certainly surprised us,” said Jeff Jeffers, Garth’s CEO and principal auctioneer. “We thought it was a good bowl but didn’t lock into the quality and scarcity of the decoration.”
Although the Qianlong emperor ruled China from 1736 to 1795, Qianlong marks were used through the Republic period (1912-49). The porcelains came from the collection of a former Ohio State University professor who traveled the world.
The bowl demonstrated that Asian ceramics don’t have to be ancient to be valuable. “It’s not always about age, as it’s also about quality and sometimes scarcity, and that was the case here,” Jeffers said.
He noted the change in the market for Chinese porcelains in recent years. Buyers show “a little more patience when they’re bidding and trying to evaluate value,” he said. “The top end is still super strong. It’s that middle market that’s fallen.”
Jewelry also played a significant role among the lots topping the auction, with a retro-style 14k gold and diamond necklace selling for $13,750 (est. $12,000/18,000) and a vintage woman’s 18k gold Piaget bracelet watch bringing $10,625 (est. $4000/6000).
Jeffers explained that market. “As is always the case, fashion and style guide prices neck and neck with market value of the materials,” he said. Items he described as “horribly out of fashion, horribly out of style” typically sell for slightly more than their scrap, while items that are in style, that “emit emotion,” as he said, bring considerably more interest and higher prices.
Furniture was led by a “Tuthill King” style armchair attributed to John Henry Belter, New York, 1844-65, that sold for $10,000 (est. $2000/4000). In laminated rosewood, it featured carved roses and grapevines. Jeffers found an interesting correlation between Victorian furniture and the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since COVID, Victorian and high-style Victorian for us put some wind in the sail. We’ve been very pleased with prices at this time. I can’t figure what the connection is, if there is one to COVID specifically, but there are some stronger prices we’re seeing for all the markets of high style that were produced or crafted 1875 to 1910. This is one of those examples. My sense is before COVID this would have been a $3500 chair.”
The mix of furniture in the auction included a carved Classical-style white marble bench, American or European, early 20th century, having a medallion flanked by griffins on the back, acanthus-scrolled arms with fruit and urn finials, and paw feet, 41" high x 62" wide, that sold for $7500 (est. $600/900). Jeffers said the weight of the item, which would have greatly affected the shipping price, contributed to the conservative estimate. “That being said, if you’re in the market for something like this, this example was wonderful. The proportions were very pleasing,” he added. “Form drives value.”
Mid-century modern furniture saw a Barcelona chair and stool by Knoll, white leather on chrome frames, sell for $6875 (est. $2000/4000) and a Womb chair and ottoman by Knoll, red fabric on chrome frames, bring $3125 (est. $2000/4000). Items in both lots dated to the second half of the 20th century, according to the auction house.
“Mid-century is very interesting to me,” said Jeffers. “We have a handful of clients who cashed in Americana and country, always understood form, and now live with, collect, enjoy, and study mid-century for many of the same reasons: form, color, sometimes surface. That being said, that’s a very small part of the buyer base behind prices. We had some very iconic and clear forms, and this is the price structure today.”
Smalls included a decorated redware bottle, probably American, first half of the 19th century, the shaped vessel having a glaze with manganese flecks and a yellow slip decoration of two birds and two tulips. Standing 5½" high, the bottle sold for $6875 (est. $300/600), while a redware pie plate having a landscape scene and three-color slip decoration including green, mid-19th century, 6½" diameter, brought $4062.50 (est. $600/800).
The decorations were a significant part of the value. “Things that catch your eye have a little bit of emotion and are harder to put on a scale,” said Jeffers.
That also held true for a covered rectangular basket in an unusually small size, 2½" high x 4" wide, the woven splint having red- and black-painted bands, late 19th or early 20th century, that sold for $2375 (est. $150/250). Jeffers described the piece as “good Americana” with “scarce scale and size.”
Other American smalls included two wrought-iron fireplace utensils, each marked “Cy. Crites.” A 21½" long ladle, dated 1848 and having a tooled eagle, tulip, and sunburst designs, brass detail, and a heart handle, realized $1750 (est. $1000/1250), and a 19½" long fork dated 1841, having tooled tulips and sunbursts, made $1375 (est. $600/1200). The maker is believed to be Cyrus Crites of Allen County, Ohio. Being midwestern, signed, dated, and decorated, the utensils were the type of unusual and desirable objects that seldom come to market. “They had a folksy form about them,” said Jeffers, who added that the price seemed reasonable considering the scarcity of the objects. “I think there’s still money left,” he said.
Jeffers said a buyer also got a good deal on a carved sandstone sculpture of a life-size bee skep, early 20th century, unsigned, on a rough block base, 21" high x 14" wide x 11" deep, that sold for $3000 (est. $200/350). “I thought that was an incredibly reasonable price,” he said. “The overall scale and proportions were really nice. Color and surface came into play.”
One key to the strong prices was increased participation from Internet bidders. “God bless the global marketplace. Because of the diversity of this auction, we had more online buyers in front of their screens at the moment of bidding than we can recall ever,” said Jeffers. “Online bidding is here to stay.”
For more information, phone Garth’s at (740) 362-4771 or visit (www.garths.com).
Originally published in the January 2022 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2022 Maine Antique Digest -
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