Curiosities Abound At Merrill’s Continental & Decorative Arts Auction

Fantastic silk Chinese robe sporting five-toed dragons embroidered with golden metallic thread sold for $6,325 ($500-$1,000).

Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy Merrill’s Auctioneers & Appraisers

WILLISTON, VT. – Merrill’s Auctioneers & Appraisers conducted its Continental & Decorative Arts Auction on July 22. The multi-category sale consisted of objects from many estates, including that of Stephen Tulin of North Ferrisburgh, Vt., whose parents collected some of the objects offered while on their 1910 honeymoon to Italy and Spain, and ephemera from the Foster family home in Derby Line, Vt. There were also pieces that had descended through a Philadelphia family, as well as a large collection of woodblock prints purchased directly from the Vermont artist Sabra Field.

First among the top lots was a late Twentieth Century Boston by Steinway & Sons baby grand piano sold with a humidifier and matching bench for $6,325, well over its $2/4,000 estimate. Most similar to Steinway’s current Model S, this baby grand was only 60 inches tall and appeared in overall good condition. Designed in the 1930s, it’s the smallest of the Steinway models. Even used pianos of this kind are usually priced in the $20/30,000 range for retail, so the lucky buyer had quite the find that day.

Tied for the highest lot was an early Twentieth Century Chinese silk robe which sold for more than five times its $500-$1,000 estimate at $6,325. The robe’s upper half showed three golden five-toed dragons on the back and two on the shoulders, all embroidered with metallic thread, clouds, fire and wavelike designs against a royal blue field. The skirt of the robe showed a bookplate, chevron design of multicolored stripes that resembled water. The robe looked as though it had never been worn and was in excellent condition.

Appealing but next to anonymous California landscape signed by “Elmer” achieved $3,150 ($200/400).

Keeping time in the third highest spot was a French gilt brass regulator clock with a case designed to classical scale, sporting a cornice, frieze and architrave on its top and supported by diminutive Corinthian columns. The panels seemed to be reverse painted with a hunting scene, showing an elaborately dressed youth with a falcon on the front, as well as a gentleman and lady in Renaissance-style garb on both side panels. The face of the clock showed a home in the distance and was signed “LAMY.” It sold for $5,175. Another French gilt brass minute repeater clock, circa 1900, with its original leather case also went during the sale for $1,610.

The most ornate piece of decorative art in the sale was an early Seventeenth Century Vargueño walnut desk that achieved $4,025. The term “Vargueño” is specific to intricately decorated drop front writing desks, and this example was no exception. The fall front was decorated with metal appliques, hinges and lock works, and the fitted interior contained 16 drawers with gilt and blue painted decoration surrounding drop iron pulls. Some restoration on the interior drawers was visible. The lid support slides terminated in grotesque carved masks, with the desk’s base supported by fluted and rope-turned column legs, braced by an open work stretched and terminating with sledge feet.

After this in the highest sales was a 94-piece midcentury set of Georg Jensen “Acorn” pattern flatware, including the original case, all of which were in excellent condition. The pattern was designed in 1915 by Johan Rohde and is a hallmark of Scandinavian design. The set counted out $3,738 and was joined in this category by a circa 1905 Goodnow & Jenks five-piece sterling tea service for $1,680.

This group lot of memories from World War I Allied Expeditionary Force Lieutenant Stephen Foster of Derby, Vt., sold well over estimate at $2,300 ($400/600).

Fine art was represented in the top lots by Edward L. Loper (1916-2011), an African American artist and teacher. Loper was self-taught but also studied at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, is represented in major American institutions and a retrospective of his work took place at the Delaware Art Museum in 1996. Loper was born in Wilmington, Del., and his undated painting titled “Wilmington Street” sold for $4,313. Not far behind was a Twentieth Century Californian landscape signed “from Elmer,” about whom nothing is listed. The painting got by on looks alone at $3,150 against a $200/400 estimate.

Another landscape in a different medium also made it to the top lots. Sabra Field’s “Cow Barn In Cold Country” was one of six woodblock prints in the sale, all signed and bought directly from the artist. Field still creates and sells art today from her studio in Vermont, and her woodblock prints are highly sought-after at auction and on the market. “Cow Barn” was signed and editioned, coming home for $2,760.

A handful of portraits were in the sale, but the highest earner was of Admiral Sir Robert Calder (1745-1818). Painted in the late Eighteenth Century in the English school, the artist was possibly in the circle of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The sitter attribution was made from other portraits of Calder from the same period. In this example he doesn’t wear his admiral’s uniform, but sober civilian garb with a powdered wig. The portrait shipped out for $2,875.

Jewelry, a prominent category in the sale, was led by a 14K gold, silver and pave diamond figural ring in the shape of a leopard. Encrusted with more than 300 stones and ruby eyes, the sparkling creature climbed to $2,530. Another bejeweled treasure was a circa 1900 vermeil silver Russian belt with Cyrillic initials that cinched in at $1,840. Sharing this price was a contemporary Rebecca Collins stone and multimedia necklace. An 18K white gold pear-shaped diamond engagement ring for $1,725 followed. Last but certainly not the least in jewelry was a 25-carat aquamarine brooch in a white gold setting, decorated with dragons, which shined at $1,610.

A 14K yellow gold and silver leopard ring, covered in over 300 pave diamonds with ruby eyes, sold for $2,530.

Ephemera was a surprisingly strong category, with two lots in particular more than doubling their high estimates. An archive of letters kept by World War I Allied Expeditionary Force Lieutenant Stephen Foster of Derby, Vt., from his service in Europe, as well as three uniform jackets, photographs and other soldiering goods that gathered $2,300 against a $400/600 estimate.

Also related to the Foster family was another group lot of two presidential appointments of John G. Foster as Consul General of the United States to Ottawa, Canada. The lot contained both the English and American framed documents, the latter signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, and sold for $1,955.

Another group lot associated with the Fosters was an earlier set of appointments for the same position in 1897, this time signed by President William McKinley. This set sold for $1,265. Although not signed by either monarch, it is interesting to note that the English dispensations are given in the name of Queen Victoria in the earlier set and by King Edward VII in 1901.

Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Merrill’s Country Americana auction is August 29. For information, or 802-878-2625.


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