NEW YORK, N.Y.- Sotheby’s annual auction of Important Americana will take place on 20 & 21 January 2012 in New York. The sale will offer American furniture, silver, folk art, prints, carpets, English pottery and Chinese export porcelain, and features several important discoveries across categories – from two previously undocumented chests by legendary cabinetmaker John Townsend, to a second iconic Ptarmigan Vase and an extremely rare Colt Model 1849 pocket revolver. The sale will be on exhibition in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning 14 January, alongside the auction of Important American Schoolgirl Embroideries: The Landmark Collection of Betty Ring.
American Silver, Prints & Carpets – 20 January
The first day of the auction will be led by a group of American silver from the First Parrish Church in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The Church is steeped in American history: it is the oldest congregation in the current city of Boston, and one of the oldest in the United States; it was the site of the first recorded town meeting in 1633; and the present structure is one of the only colonial revival churches built in the late-19th century that is still standing. The Church will use the proceeds from the sale of its 18th century silver to move its mission in the Dorchester community into the 21st century – not only by updating the physical building and its systems, but also becoming a useful resource and active center for its multi-faceted community.
Silver from the First Parrish Church will be led by The Governor Stoughton Cups: A Rare Pair of American Silver Standing Cups that represent some of the most remarkable American silver to come to auction in decades (est. $1/2 million). The Cups were made in 1701 by Jeremiah Dummer – the first native-born New England silversmith – as part of a larger silver commission left in the will of Governor William Stoughton – notorious for presiding over the Salem witch trials. Handsome, partly cast and chased, and finely engraved with the original Stoughton arms, the Cups have a stature commensurate with a governor’s gift, and remain in exceptional condition.
Also highlighting the collection is The Thomas Lake Beakers: A Rare Pair of American Silver Beakers by Robert Sanderson, Sr. and his partner John Hull – creator of the earliest surviving piece of New England silver and founder of the Massachusetts Mint, to whom Jeremiah Dummer was apprenticed (est. $300/500,000). The initials engraved on the Beakers are those of Deacon Thomas Lake, who was admitted to the First Church of Dorchester in 1640, and his wife Alice. Deacon Lake’s sister-in-law was Dorchester’s only “witch”, sentenced and executed for communicating with the devil after claiming to have seen an apparition of her deceased youngest child.
In January 2011, Sotheby’s sold a massive mokume vase that had descended in the family of Paulding Farnham to the National Gallery of Canada for $662,500, above a high estimate of $120,000. The exceptional example of mixed-metal craftsmanship was referenced in family inventories as the “Ptarmigan Vase”. Aside from a similar 3 1/8” version that had also descended in the Farnham’s family, the Ptarmigan Vase was believed to be singular in its creation. In the spring of 2011, Sotheby’s was notified of the existence of a second, identical vase, along with a book documenting the iconography and simultaneous construction of the two vases. That second Ptarmigan Vase will be offered as an important highlight of the January 2012 sale, estimated at $400/600,000.
Additional highlights of the silver on offer include five trophy pieces from the St. Bernard Commandery No. 35, Knights Templar, Chicago. By World War I, an estimated one in every eight adult men and women in the United States belonging to some kind of fraternal order, and marching competitions at the state and national levels drew audiences in the tens of thousands and produced intense rivalries. In a half-century of competition, St. Bernard Commandery from Chicago claimed more prizes that almost any other commandery, including the trophies offered this January. Among other treasures, the group features the 29th Triennial Conclave at San Francisco, CA, 1904: An American Silver and Copper “Indian” Punch Bowl, Stand and Ladle Attributed to Joseph Heinrich, New York, Retailed by Hammersmith & Field, San Francisco dated 1904 (est. $150/250,000), and the 22nd Triennial Conclave at San Francisco, CA, 1883: An American Silver, Bronze, and California Gold Quartz “Knights Templar” Trophy, George C. Shreve & Co., San Francisco, with figures attributed to F. Marion Wells in 1883 (est. $150/250,000).
The first day of the Important Americana auction will begin with a group of prints, including an American White Pelican (est. $80/120,000) and a Flamingo (est. $100/150,000) after John James Audubon, as well as a selection of carpets.
American Furniture, Folk Art, English Pottery & Chinese Export Porcelain – 21 January
American furniture in the January auction will be led by a previously undocumented high chest of drawers by renowned cabinetmaker John Townsend, which represents one of the most important discoveries of American furniture to come to light in decades. Signed and dated in 1756 when Townsend was 23 years old, The Exceptional Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Arnold Shell-Carved and Figured Mahogany High Chest of Drawers with Open Talons stands as his earliest surviving high chest, as well as one of the two earliest known works by his hand, and is likely his masterwork showing that he had completed his apprenticeship (est. $2/3 million*).
The chest was originally owned by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Arnold (1725-1789) and Mary Oliver Arnold (1725-1762) of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, who commissioned it on the occasion of their marriage in 1756. It has survived in their family for 255 years, having descended through six generations of female lines of the Arnold-Wightman-Wickes branches of their family to the current owner, Oliver Arnold’s great-great-great-great granddaughter. The work remains in remarkably untouched condition, and retains its original surface and all of its original parts.
The sale features a second piece by John Townsend that was previously unpublished and unknown to scholars: The Important Jeremiah Sheldon Chippendale Block- and Shell-Carved and Figured Mahogany Chest of Drawers, Attributed to the Shop of John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1765 (est. on request). A rare survival of the Newport three-drawer block-and-shell chest form – only eight are known to exist today – this dynamic chest directly descended through the Sheldon family to the current owner. The piece remains in original condition, with highly swirled and figured wood, and book- matched top, and still retains its original highly elaborate brass hardware.
Property from the Collection of Ann and Philip Holzer will offer another important work by John Townsend: a Very Fine and Rare Queen Anne Carved and Figured Mahogany Slant-Front Desk, Attributed to John Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1770 (est. $50/100,000). Newport desks with a flat front of the form such as the present example are extremely rare. This one exhibits exceptional workmanship, a refined design, supreme carving, high quality materials and broad proportions. The collection also includes a Fine and Rare Chippendale Carved Mahogany Lolling Chair with Blocked Feet, Goddard-Townsend School, Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1170 (est. $80/160,000), as well as an edition of The Bloody Massacre (Brigham Plate 14) by Paul Revere – one of the one of the earliest political prints created in America, depicting a pivotal moment in the young country's struggle for independence (est. $75/125,000).
Another unique and recently-discovered offering in the January sale will be an Extremely Rare and Highly Important Gold-Inlaid and Deep Relief Engraved Colt Model 1849 Pocket Revolver, Samuel Colt, Hartford, Connecticut, circa 1853 (est. $800,000/1.2 million). Until the discovery of this pistol, only 21 Gold-Inlaid percussion Colt firearms were known to have survived. In addition to exhibitions, Colonel Colt likely made these elaborately-engraved revolvers as presentation pieces to important state leaders and dignitaries – given in an attempt to gain contracts for firearm purchases and production contracts.
The Important Prentiss-Wilkins Family Set of Six Chippendale Carved Mahogany Side Chairs, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, circa 1770 is remarkable for having survived together for over 250 years in untouched condition (est. $150/300,000). The set has been a part of two iconic auctions of American furniture at Park-Bernet Galleries: Important American Furniture and Decorations from the Collection of Maurice Rubin in 1952, and Valuable American Furniture: From the Collections of the Late Irving H. Vogel in 1957. A Very Fine and Rare Chippendale Tall Case Clock, Works by Nathaniel Dominy IV, East Hampton, New York, Dated 1788 is a masterpiece of Dominy’s workshop and the first known alarm clock that he made (est. $50/100,000). The piece is purely American in style, with Shaker-like lines, as well as in construction: all of the mechanics were made in Dominy’s workshop, with nothing imported.
The selection of folk art in the January auction will be highlighted by Ammi Phillips’s Portrait of a Winsome Young Girl in Red with Green Slippers, Dog and Bird, circa 1840 (est. $300/500,000). As stated in the catalogue essay by Stacy C. Hollander, Senior Curator at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, Phillips is especially renowned today for one of the most celebrated groups of 19th century portraits in America, comprising four scenes of serene children wearing similar dresses. Of the four, only one child is identified – Andrew Jackson Ten Broeck, who was painted in Clermont, New York, in 1834. The three girls, however, are seated indoors, with a small brown dog sitting at their feet. The present portrait is further distinguished as one of only 11 portraits of children in red by the artist.
Also on offer is View of the John Hancock House, Beacon Hill, Boston (Fireboard / Overmantel), painted circa 1780 – one of the earliest and most complete views of the famous Hancock residence (est. $150/250,000). The work was originally created for Thomas Hancock, and was descended to John Hancock through Thomas’s widow Lydia. John then is said to have given it to the patriot Samuel Adams for use as a fireboard. In addition, a Rare and Historic Printed Silk American Flag was carried into the historic battle of Shiloh by William Shallenberger, Company D, 55th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, circa 1862 (est. $20/40,000). The 55th Illinois is credited by historians as having saved the Union army’s left flank at the battle, which had essentially saved Grant’s army at this important engagement.
A selection of Chinese export porcelain will also be offered on the 21st, featuring A Rare Chinese Export Famille-Rose Goose Tureen and Cover, circa 1780 (est. $150/250,000), and A Rare Chinese Export Famille-Rose Boar’s Head Tureen, Cover and a Stand, circa 1780 (est. $70/100,000), as will several examples of English pottery including A Rare Staffordshire Earthenware Arbor Group, circa 1765 (est. ($30/40,000).