Friday, February 12, 2016

Lessons Learned from the Schorsch auction - January 2016 at Sotheby's

Remember the Schorsch Americana auction, some weeks ago at Sotheby's? 
    I thought you might enjoy another look at what was there, what sold well (and what didn't)...
        and some of the lessons I learned. 

First on the docket:
     If this auction, and succeeding auctions this year at Sotheby's, are any indication:
                 Furniture no longer is the reigning king.
 
 Especially older furniture...and especially if it's large. Like this lovely piece:

LOT #781   QUEEN ANNE CARVED AND FIGURED MAPLE CHEST-ON-CHEST, BEDFORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE, CIRCA 1780

Estimate 30,000 - 50,000 USD

Beautiful finish...    It sold for $12,000 -- considerably under pre-sale estimates.

This one was supposed to be one of the big stars of the show. Experts were confidently predicting that it would bring much more than its pre-sale estimates.


IMPORTANT CHIPPENDALE CARVED AND HIGHLY FIGURED MAHOGANY BLOCK-FRONT BONNET-TOP CHEST-ON-CHEST, ATTRIBUTED TO BENJAMIN FROTHINGHAM, JR., CHARLESTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS, CIRCA 1770

Estimate 150,000 - 250,000 USD
 It sold for $150,000 -- barely its lowest estimate.
*Furniture -- what can I say. This uniformly did badly. An "exceptional" Chippendale block-front chest of drawers (Lot #714) sold for $75,000 -- but it was valued at double or triple that amount. Even the Chippendale highboy so fussed about (Lot #697 -- experts said it was worth a million dollars...or much, much more) barely hit the high end of the pre-auction estimate: $970,000. Any time the words 'important,' 'exceptional' or 'rare' were used, the sale amount did a little better -- but not always. Very early era furniture (think Pilgrim time period), especially those in excellent condition, or unusually-decorated pieces held their own, or even did quite well.
     One exception to this: Lot #851, a 'very rare' Pilgrim era (c.1685) turned spindle 'Great' chair -- way under its estimate. It was from Israel Sack...did that affect the price? Lot #853, also from Sack's firm, also sold for much less than its low estimate. Restoration work? (The seats were replaced.) Condition? Or maybe the chairs were uncomfortable to sit in...I'm pretty sure, though, that the Schorshes lost a good bit of their original investments in these pieces.

One odd question: why did Israel Sack, nor his sons, NOT collect the same Americana antiques they were known for authenticating -- and selling? (They said it was because they didn't want to compete with their clients...but I still don't understand.)

* * * * * * * * * * *

Bedcoverings, quilts and other bed-related textiles were not a big deal -- and their prices reflected that general lack of interest. Which is sad...there were some beautiful pieces up for the gavel. Like this Jacquard-style coverlet:

Only one in the auction -- and it sold for around $2000. About what I figured.  (Lot #794)

Samplers and other smaller textile pieces did much better. (More on this in a bit.)

*There was a lot of Staffordshire ware in the auction. If you're looking to collect Staffordshire, ensure your investment by collecting pieces that are well-made, with strong decorative value, good provenances, and excellent condition. The agateware teapots sold at higher prices. (Look in the Lot #340s range for examples of these.) Some of the lead-glazed pieces did well -- some didn't. Ditto for the salt-glazed figures. (Which I mostly thought were kind of goofy-looking. Ah well.)

 Or just choose a squirrel design. (The Schorsch's piece went for $5000, considerably more than its pre-auction estimate.) As the auctioneer pointed out, "Everybody loves a squirrel."

*I learned more about 'posset jugs.' Fuddling cups, too...though neither type sold that well.

*Delftware sales were so-so. Some pieces did okay, but nothing spectacular. This surprised me a little, considering blue-and-white's popularity in home dec.

*Toby jugs did not do well at all. They're apparently not in fashion right now. (Don't worry -- they're too decorative not to make a return appearance. They'll be back.)

*Stay away from the chandeliers. They did NOT sell well. Case in point: Lot #408, a six-light German piece, late 19th century, valued at $3000-5000. It sold for $250.

*Same for mirrors. If they were extremely old, they 'sort of' sold. Otherwise, forget it. Lot #471, a Charles II beadwork mirror, was the rare exception -- it went for $25,000, considerably more than its $3000-5000 estimate.

*Or cooking utensils or fireplace equipment, in general. This trend, by the way, was evident in succeeding auctions at Sotheby's, too. Pre-sale estimates were way overblown.

*If you're going to invest in brass and pewter, particularly candlesticks and cooking utensils, study up first. Many did 'okay,' but a few were especially bad. The exceptions: 18th century English pewter tankards -- but even they weren't selling for huge bucks.

*You might be better off going to silver, instead. These pieces generally held their value, based on the pre-auction estimates. The silver tankards, which I followed more closely (probably because of this), kept to the higher end of the pre-auction price spectrum...provided they had some provenance, both on the maker and the owner.
    Silver serving pieces held their own, as did (surprisingly, at least to me) silverware.

*Whaling-related and whalebone items, including ship's models, ships in a bottle, etc. were not that big a draw. (Scrimshaw and shellwork were the big exception -- some of these sold quite well, the group of walking-sticks -- Lot #960 -- that went for more than $10,5000, including premium -- far more than their original estimate of $1200-1500.)
       I'd thought they would, in the New England area. But then again, we just saw In the Heart of the Sea.
     The ship paintings did much better, especially if they were Chinese-painted.

*Husband-and-wife colonial portrait pairs generally did not do that well. They were selling for thousands of dollars...but nowhere near their pre-auction estimates. (Was this the appraiser's slipup?) A few exceptions depended on the painter or subject matter, like Ralph Earl's paintings of a couple (Lot #691.) They were valued at $25,000-50,000 -- but sold for $274,000. Well-deserved, too.
     The Schorsches obviously were fond of this subject matter....they owned a number of pairs.
     I'm fond of it, too. Maybe now's the time to invest?

George Washington tiebacks. These did way better than buttons or shoe buckles.


*Miniature portraits, with a few exceptions, did quite well.

*Oriental rugs held their own -- or in some cases, did very well. At least these could be in use while you're collecting them.

*Metal garden sculptures did well. (These people had EVERYTHING. Really.)

*Most anything connected to George Washington did GREAT.  Even the copperprinted cotton display piece and handkerchiefs (Lots #1002-1004) sold for higher prices than I've seen them go for. (Granted, these were in excellent condition.) There were exceptions, like #1018's group of (paper) objects connected to Washington's death -- these didn't sell well at all.

*Paper drawings and prints (think frakturs, lettered hymns, etc., as well as prints, like the Boston Massacre) did 'okay.' But not that great, unless they were really unusual.

A nice 'sheepish' sampler...

*Needlework pictures easily held their own -- or more. There were a few exceptions, mostly in the embroidered family pictures, but basically embroideries, stumpwork, beading and such held their value -- or much more. Want to invest in this? Look for excellent condition and workmanship -- and if possible, somebody famous as the subject matter. Like George Washington. Who also had an effect on the sales of...

*Mourning pictures. Some of these sold very well (especially if they were mourning Washington) -- most had mediocre results. (And this was the collection of a family known for establishing a 'mourning museum' in an old cemetery.) In general, though, there seemed to be less interest in this area than in past years. Maybe sobbing isn't in vogue?!?
    But mourning-related jewelry is -- it sold quite well. One of the most expensive pieces was, naturally, connected to Washington -- a pin (Lot #1048 - see text below) that held a lock of his hair -- it sold for nearly $50,000, more than quadruple its pre-auction estimate. (I really am starting to feel sorry for the poor man; he must have been pestered to death with requests for letting himself be painted, his hair, etc etc.) Take a look at Lot #1049 -- a Washington mourning ring -- also with hair -- in a spiffy labeled red box. Estimated at $8000-12,000, it went for $30,000. Very cool.

GEORGE WASHINGTON: AMERICAN GOLD MOURNING PIN, CIRCA 1799
Enclosing six strands of hair stated to be George Washington's, in a chased gold surround, apparently unmarked. Together with envelope and paper packet: "Gen Washington's hair from Bettie G Webb / Given to her by Mr. Hamilton, to whom it was left by his mother, to whom it was sent by Lady Washington."
Length 1 5/8 in.


I fell in love with a little Delft blue-and-white washbasin, Lot #713, valued at $300-500. (It sold for $125.) I had fun calling up The Mama: "Why didn't you buy that piece for me?!"

SURPRISES: 
A Gentleman's court wig and stand (Lot #776)  (sold for $1250).

Reindeer hides went for big bucks -- but they were also extremely rare Russian-tanned hides salvaged from an old shipwreck. (I hope to tell you more about this in the future. UPDATE: I did! Go here for a more complete report.)

Shoe buckles...really?!?  They did 'okay'...or worse. (Lots #798 and #799 are representative.)

A trick skeleton in a coffin, carved from whalebone (the skeleton, at least) #958 -- 600-800 pre-estimate, sold for $5000, including buyer's premium! (Another skeleton-in-coffin piece, Lot #1015, did equally well.)

and one of the goofiest sale of all -- the "silver-mounted" sewing ball.

I've hardly mentioned the Staffordshire pieces, considering how many were in the auction. (And I'm not even including the pearlware and other ceramics.) Don't take my word for it -- go see for yourself! The final inventory and sales, including descriptions and condition reports is still up on the Internet -- who knows how long it will stay there.

Go here -- quick -- to see the full sales results. It will take a while to scroll down through everything -- but it will be worth it.  (You can also see several posts with examples in the January part ofis blog -- including needlework caskets, samplers and more. Scroll down to find them.)

The final total:  $10,262,129. My guess would be that includes buyer's premiums, which were healthy.   Sotheby's staff were bragging that the sale would bring in at least $10 million.

     On the other hand, they couldn't have known that a blizzard was going to hit New York City this week, either. At least one expert said to my group that the "blizzard effect" was nonexistent -- anyone in the world could bid, if they had a phone or access to a computer. And he was right, in that respect. But I read elsewhere that the snow and cold had a definite impact on preview events. And if you're going to spend this kind of money on antiques... well, you're going to make sure they're worth it. In detail. I do think that the blizzard was a contributing factor, even though both Sotheby and its competitor, Christie's, have been taking financial hits, especially in the past year. 

Interesting. Very interesting.


A very early print of the Boston Massacre, hand-tinted, I'd guess -- went for $1000

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