Garth’s Auctioneers & Appraisers went back to the basics for its March 28 sale of country Americana. The material represented a sweet spot for the auction house, but Ohio’s stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic led Jeff Jeffers, Garth’s CEO and principal auctioneer, to find a workaround for some unique issues involving the sale. Previews were by appointment. Garth’s cavernous salesroom at the Municipal Light Plant was closed the day of the auction. And absentee bidding became the new order of the day.
It worked fabulously.
An abundance of caution leading into the sale began with taking care of Garth’s staff. Some worked from home. Seven employees on site in the 19,000-square-foot facility took extra steps for safety—disinfecting surfaces and monitoring their health. “We followed guidelines for social distancing and minimal operations,” Jeffers said.
The success of the auction, however, largely came down to muscle memory. After 65 years in business, Garth’s did what the company has done for decades, using detailed catalogs, personal contacts, and absentee bidding to get things sold.
“People are trusting our condition reports and our photographs, and they’re bidding with confidence that way,” said Jeffers. “That’s the nice thing about the auction industry. We’ve been accommodating people who can’t be here in the saleroom.” To allow clients to take part from a distance, Garth’s has used left bids and phone bids since 1954 and recently added Internet bids.
“Participation online has been amazing,” Jeffers said. “The tenacity with which people have been bidding online has been nothing less than amazing. Prices have held their own and in a couple of cases are stronger than we’ve seen in twenty years.”
Two 17th-century brass candlesticks from northern Europe, 8" high x 8" diameter, topped the auction, selling for $3625 the pair (including buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $1000/1500. Similar in design, they had threaded posts, a drip pan over a beehive-like dome, and scalloped edges. Jeffers described them as early and scarce.
The best of the artwork was a 27" x 36" scene by Hudson River school artist Edmund Coates (1816-1871), oil on canvas, signed and dated 1856, that brought $3600 (est. $2500/3500). Depicting a farmstead and fishermen, the painting possibly depicted Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.
“There’s certainly no shortage of Hudson River valley scenes,” said Jeffers. This example had some advantages over many others. “The size was a little bigger than most,” he noted. Also adding to the impact was what Jeffers called “a fabulous use of light.”
The work was iconic Americana. “I think a great landscape is based on attribution, locale, regionalism, execution, color, light, and use of line. All those things can elevate price,” Jeffers added. A good American landscape also has another quality. “They are a quintessential piece of most collections,” Jeffers said.
Furniture was led by a classic form, the sack-back Windsor. In old black paint, an unmarked American armchair from the late 18th century sold for $2400 (est. $250/450), while a marked example by Ebenezer Tracy of Lisbon, Connecticut, late 18th century, in old dark green paint, brought $1250 (est. $250/500).
For the most part, however, it was a day dominated by folky items and smalls. Top lots included a double-sided painted wood sign shaped like an ear of corn and promoting the original user as a member of the Farmers’ Roadside Market Association of New Jersey, a group that originated in the 1920s. Measuring 11½" x 45", the sign sold for $1680 (est. $200/400).
Bandboxes also brought considerable attention. The best was a pasteboard box that included a beaver motif on a yellow ground, 9¼" high x 13½" wide, that sold for $1320 (est. $1000/1500), while the same design on a blue ground, having a printed label, “From S. M. Hurlbert’s Paste Board Band Box Manufactory, No. 25 Court Street, Boston,” made $1250 (est. $1250/1750).
Other patterns included one of white squirrels on a blue ground, poplar, 11" high x 18¼" wide, at $1125 (est. $900/1200), and a pair of ruffed grouse, pasteboard, 11" high x 16" wide, that sold for $780 (est. $400/800).
The mix of Americana varied from a Federal mantel in yellow pine, possibly southern, first quarter of the 19th century, 64" high x 86½" wide, that sold for $1750 (est. $600/1200) to a circular tramp art frame holding a cat painting done on a tin pie pan, circa 1900, 10" diameter, that brought $1000 (est. $100/200).
What was obvious during the day was that people continued to find a bit of normalcy by bidding, despite restricted movement and changing financial situations caused by COVID-19. “We make ourselves feel better when we buy something. I think that’s in play,” said Jeffers.
“In a lot of ways the last month has been about getting back to basics. We’ve really thought about what’s most important for clients and for the business,” he added. The Windsors and the Hudson River school scene were part of those fundamentals. “I think it shows that kind of straight-to-the-point things resonate.”
For more information, phone Garth’s at (740) 362-4771 or visit (www.garths.com).
Originally published in the July 2020 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2020 Maine Antique Digest -