Purchase Story

Skinner Americana

Boston, Massachusetts

Photos courtesy Skinner

Skinner’s Americana sale on March 2 celebrated the historical with objects as documents. Material relating to George Washington, for example, was highly desirable, and buyers bid accordingly. It wasn’t just the portraits and documents for sale; two porcelain objects were also historical.

This portrait by Sheldon Peck (1797-1868) of a solemn 12-year-old John Newcomb Knapp (1826-1893) of Victory, New York, attracted all comers at Skinner’s sale in the Boston gallery, where it sold to Leigh Keno on the phone for $231,000 (est. $10,000/15,000). It is headed to a major collection. The 23½" x 19½" oil on canvas laid down on panel descended from the sitter to his daughter, Jessie Knapp Gates (b. 1857), and through her to the consignor. The sitter, holding a large apple, is identified in typewritten notes on the reverse. The portrait was accompanied by a copy of the 1874 Genealogical Memoir of the Newcomb Family published by Knight & Leonard of Chicago, along with other family documents. Knapp grew up to become a highly respected lawyer, banker, military officer, and politician.

Some days after the sale, Keno described the picture as “among the best children’s portraits that Peck ever did,” noting that the face of the child is “pared down to the essentials.” He added, “Its provenance is the icing on the cake!” He said the picture will have some very light conservation, likely with a water-based application.

This portrait of George Washington after Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) by his daughter Jane Stuart (1812-1888) was a very good buy for the online bidder who got it for $9225 (est. $15,000/25,000). The 30" x 25" oil on canvas is inscribed on the back, “Copy of Stuart’s Head of Washington / by his Daughter / Jane Stuart / Boston.” The artist, who was the 12th child of her parents, gave the painting to Florence Lyman, in whose family it descended. Lyman and Stuart would likely have known each other in Newport, Rhode Island. Mascolo photo.

The Society of the Cincinnati porcelain tea bowl and saucer, circa 1790, owned by Revolutionary War Major General Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810) of Hingham, Massachusetts, and which had descended in his family, brought $92,250 (est. $10,000/15,000). The bowl and saucer were from among a number of services commissioned by Samuel Shaw of Boston, aide-de-camp to General Henry Knox, on several voyages to China. The two were instrumental in the 1783 establishment of the society, founded to honor military heroes who, like Roman hero Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, served in times of war with valor and distinction and retired to lead lives untinged by politics, chicanery, and power-grabbing.

Shipments of the porcelain arrived from China beginning in 1785; the Lincoln service was among the earliest, and a group of his descendants presented 28 pieces to the Concord (Massachusetts) Antiquarian Society in 1952. Each of about 45 pieces bore his monogram and the emblem of the society. George Washington, first president of the Society of the Cincinnati, owned a set of over 300 pieces. Certain French citizens who had aided the new republic in the revolution were also recipients of the Cincinnati service. The insignia, incorporating a bald eagle, was designed by French architect and military engineer Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who also created the plan of the city of Washington. Mascolo photo.

Collectors and dealers who wait eagerly for Skinner’s Americana catalogs had a surprise in store for them. So did Skinner. For this sale Skinner sent out a brochure of highlighted lots. The full catalog was online and could be downloaded at home. There was no printed catalog. Skinner is testing the process. The absence of a catalog and the dismal snow and ice on the day of the sale seemed to have no impact, as a larger than usual crowd turned up in the gallery. Skinner also observed significantly greater numbers of requests for condition reports and more online bidding and phone bidding. Although this was only a test, more and more Skinner auctions are online only.

At the March 2018 Americana sale, the cover lot, the Mary Bell Shawvan Civil War quilt that Stephen Fletcher described simply as “the best quilt we’ve ever had,” was passed at $60,000 (est. $100,000/150,000). This year the same quilt, still in the same bag in which Skinner had delivered it to the consignor in 2003, failed to sell with an estimate of $40,000/60,000. Again, Fletcher described it as museum quality, the “best quilt we’ve ever had.” Aside from its sheer beauty, it is an important Civil War document.

The top lot of the sale was an oil on canvas portrait by Sheldon Peck of John Newcomb Knapp that sold for $231,000 (including buyer’s premium) to Leigh Keno. The painting had descended through the Knapp family to the consignor.

For information, visit (www.skinnerinc.com) or call the Americana department at (508) 970-3200.

This pair of silver sugar tongs from the second half of the 18th century was cataloged as likely eastern Massachusetts. Estimated at $400/600, the tongs realized $1599 on the phone. The tongs are engraved “L / BM” for Benjamin and Mary Lincoln, the original owners, and had descended in the family to the consignor.

This Staffordshire dish, circa 1720, with a buff body and a dark brown ground with cream color and light brown slip decoration and a coggled rim on a buff body came from the Jonathan Rickard collection and sold for $10,455 (est. $3000/5000). The 3¼" deep x 16¾" diameter dish is illustrated in Ronald G. Cooper’s 1968 book English Slipware Dishes 1650-1850 and in Leslie B. Grigsby’s 2000 book The Longridge Collection of English Slipware and Delftware.

This late 19th-century full-bodied heron weathervane, a daunting 48" tall, has its bill, legs, and feet fashioned from sheet copper and sold online for $14,760 (est. $20,000/30,000). The bird came from the Squirrel Island, Maine, summer residence of industrialist Albert Henry Davenport (1845-1906), who designed and manufactured interior woodwork, paneling, and furniture for clients across the U.S. and Europe and for the White House. Davenport, who lived in Malden, Massachusetts, gave his name to various furniture forms and philanthropic causes.

This large apple sculpture, 29" high, was estimated at $400/600 and sold for $922.50. Mascolo photo.

Springside, this landscape painting by George Lafayette Clough (1824-1901) of the summer home of the John Newcomb Knapp family on Owasco Lake, near Auburn, New York, brought $8610 (est. $6000/8000) on the phone. The 27½" x 42" oil on canvas has two very neat patches on the back. Springside was the name of a boys’ school on Waring Farm on that lake and later a rumored stop along the Underground Railroad. Knapp acquired the home in 1867.

Death of General Pike at L. York by Oliver Tarbell Eddy (1799-1868), estimated at $1200/1500, went to a phone bidder for $7380. Pike was killed at the battle of York (present day Toronto) in the War of 1812. The 16" x 14" image is thought to be Eddy’s earliest known engraving. The Vermont-born artist lived in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore—where he invented an elementary typewriter—and later Philadelphia.

Watercolor memorial, 7" x 8½", of the 1815 Dartmoor massacre, in which a number of American and French prisoners of war were killed or injured at the prison after the War of 1812, $4305 (est. $800/1200). The picture was accompanied by a 1925 letter from Frank B. Dowst of Salem, Massachusetts, whose privateer great-grandfather had been captured in 1814 and sent to Dartmoor Prison. The picture was accompanied by supporting documents and had been acquired at Skinner in the early 1970s.

A sheet copper weathervane in the form of a waving American flag and an arm and hammer, from the third quarter of the 19th century, sold for $20,910 (est. $20,000/30,000) to an online buyer. The 25½" x 65" vane retains some old gilding and evidence of later silver paint. It came most recently from a Massachusetts collection, having sold at Skinner in 1999. Catalog notes suggest that the weathervane may have topped a Mechanics Guild hall.

This 19th-century double-sided optometrist trade sign with painted eyes and a gilt frame, 8" x 35¾", sold for $12,300 (est. $1500/2500).

Molded sheet copper and zinc rearing horse weathervane by J. Howard & Company, West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, $14,760 (est. $2000/3000). The mid-19th-century vane, which retains evidence of gilt beneath gold paint, is in flattened full-body form and made of cast zinc in the front third of the horse and molded copper in the rear quarters, while the mane and tail are of crimped copper. A rear leg has separated but can be repaired.

Vivid enamel portrait miniature, 5¾" x 4½", of a youthful Commander John Paul Jones, $9225 (est. $10,000/15,000). It is thought to have been made between 1790 and 1800 after the mezzotint John Paul Jones, Commander of a Squadron in the Service of the Thirteen United States of North America, 1779, published around 1780 by the German artist and publisher Johann-Elias Haid (1739-1809). In a gold-painted frame with a gesso ribbon and wreath, the painting had been acquired at Sotheby Parke Bernet in the mid-1970s.

Skinner’s Americana men, Chris Barber, Steve Fletcher, and Chris Fox (left to right), brought history to market in the March 2 sale in the Boston gallery. Mascolo photo.

This late 18th-century mahogany desk, likely made in Newport, Rhode Island, has a hinged top that lifts to reveal a stepped interior with blocked and shell-carved drawers, compartments, and rows of smaller drawers. It was estimated at $800/1200 and brought $4920.

This Massachusetts high chest of drawers made between 1740 and 1760 garnered some interest and sold for $3444 (est. $1200/1500). Mascolo photo.

This late 18th-century tiger maple chest of drawers was estimated at $600/800, but bidders liked it enough to push it to $2640. Mascolo photo.

This maple and tiger maple chest of drawers was made in southeastern New Hampshire and is inscribed on the interior “Dean Hampstead May 11, 1817,” but no further information about the maker is known to date. Hampstead is about 20 miles from the New Hampshire coast. The chest, which has been refinished and has replaced brasses, was estimated at $3000/5000 and sold for $7380.


Originally published in the May 2019 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2019 Maine Antique Digest

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