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Purchase Story

Bring the Brink's Trucks and the Fire Extinguishers

Fran Kramer | March 25th, 2017

Cottone Auctions, Geneseo, New York

Photos courtesy Cottone Auctions

All the gold (leaf) objects were glittering, and phone and Internet bidding was hot as auctioneer Sam Cottone burned through the pockets of successful bidders in a $2.1 million sale of 418 lots on March 25 in Geneseo, New York. The first 30 lots scorched the fingers of the number crunchers who were writing down the prices; those 30 lots reached $727,000, about a third of the total gross.

“We were deliberately heavy up front,” said Matt Cottone, “and this was our first sale with many of the significant lots at the beginning of the sale. We started big, and a lot of energy was created.”

Fourteen great lots came from one famous collection, that of Seymour H. Knox Jr. (1898-1990), who was called by some “the dean of American art patrons.” Knox became a great patron of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, founded in 1862, and its Albright Art Gallery, whose name was changed subsequently to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery after Knox’s funding of a major exhibition space within the art museum.

The biggest price of the sale—$195,500 (includes buyer’s premium)—was paid for one of the smallest objects in the sale. Consigned by the Knox family, a 4" x 6½" maquette of a figure by Henry Moore (British, 1898-1986), entitled Draped Reclining Figure, went to a U.K. private collector.

Henry Moore (British, 1898-1986) made this 4" x 6½" maquette for Draped Reclining Figure. It sold for $195,500. His full-size sculptures are in collections all over the world. One of Moore’s full-size castings of Draped Reclining Woman, a similar sculpture, sold at Christie’s, London, in June 2008 for $8,448,394. Moore was an influential artist and teacher, and much of his work portrays his interest in the human form. Much information about Moore can be found online at the Henry Moore Foundation (

Uninitiate, this signed oil on canvas, was one of three pieces by artist Tetsuo Ochikubo (1923-1975) in the sale. Measuring 31" x 40", it is quite prominent, as was its selling price at $17,250 (est. $3000/5000).

Thirty-six lots each brought five-figure prices, including one of three paintings by an American artist who is not a household name. Tetsuo Ochikubo (1923-1975) painted Uninitiate, 31" x 40" and estimated at $3000/5000. It opened at $2000, rapidly rose to $6000, and ended at $17,250. Women and Children with an Architectural Background by Austrian artist Joseph Floch (1894/5-1977) sold for $37,950. A George Nakashima (1905-1990) bench went to a phone bidder for $49,450.

This Nakashima free-form bench, original patina, 29½" high x 7'2" long x 39" deep, was bought directly from George Nakashima and consigned by an Ithaca, New York, family. Estimated at $15,000/25,000, it opened at $15,000, and the bid was jumped to $22,000. It finally sold to a phone bidder for $49,450.

The inferno came from modern art, sculpture, furniture, paintings, and Tiffany lamps. Sound familiar? Americana, with a few folk art exceptions, such as the carousel figures and cigar-store Indians at this sale, is not hot.

Norman Rockwell’s wonderful Bedtime, a signed oil on canvas with some restoration to the background, 21" x 19", brought the second-highest price of the sale, $109,250.

The second-highest price of the sale, $109,250, was paid by a phone bidder for this 21" x 19" Norman Rockwell oil on canvas. Titled Bedtime, the painting has a great story, as related in Cottone’s catalog. The boy pictured in the lap of the woman is the son of John A. Chew. The boy was five years old in 1923 when the painting was done. Chew and Rockwell were neighbors in New Rochelle, New York, in the 1920s and had become friends. The painting was used for the cover for Literary Digest on March 31, 1923, and Rockwell gave the painting to Chew as a gift. The painting had been owned by the Chew family since that date. This reporter can add that she and her husband walked past Norman Rockwell, or perhaps he walked past them, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, many years ago. He was living there in his later years, and people in the town told us then that he was just another resident. No autographs, no big exhibits, just Norman Rockwell.

As for the “gold,” there were 90-plus gilded lots, including furniture, clocks, china, and accessories. The lot on the back cover of the catalog was a monumental French Napoleon III clock with cherubs, estimated at $15,000/25,000. It began at $14,000 and ended at $35,650. An innocuous boulle and gilt bronze desk set, 5½" x 15", estimated at $300/500, soared to $47,150. Described as 19th century, it was most likely 18th century, according to Matt Cottone, who, as most of us would, had quite a challenge dating the set.

When is a gilded “19th-century” desk set with inkwells and a letter clip more than just a gilded desk set with inkwells and a letter clip? When it is actually from the 18th century and two foreign bidders are hot for it. Estimated at $300/500, the piece soared to $47,150.

Both American and international collectors and dealers were very active bidders, and most were not at the sale—75% of the lots went to phone and Internet bidders; 70% of the lots went to U.S. buyers, and 30% to foreign buyers. As Sam Cottone joked, “We are only taking phone calls today.”

Regarding phone bidding, Matt Cottone spoke of the differences between phone bids and Internet bids. “Net bids are blind, meaning we only see the current bid figure, not how high the bidder is willing to go. And usually this is not the case of a person at his own computer at that exact moment when the object is being sold trying to bid again and again, higher and higher, like eBay, to keep up with the bidding. It is the computer executing all bids, from all registered bidders on the lot, higher and higher, faster and faster.”

This late 19th-century Continental desk with some surface wear opened at $12,500 and reached $28,175. Consigned from an Old Westbury, New York, collection, it was one of many ornate pieces of furniture from that collection, some of which were purchased at Cottone sales years ago.

Cottone advises leaving as high a bid as you are comfortable with, then as bidding slows down and fair warning lights up the screen, if you are able to be at your computer, make your final bid as high as you can and hope for the best. His advice is “If you cannot attend in person, bid via phone. If there is a disconnect, we will call you back. You can drop out and then come back in, as Cottone’s staff will keep you on the call until the item is sold. And phone bidding takes more time so you have more time to think.”

This William Matthew Prior (1806-1873) portrait of a young girl in a blue dress, a 24" x 20" oil on board in its original frame, from a Rochester, New York, family, sold for $39,675.

The auction room was full, and the lunch was still free. A few local dealers sat through the lots, buying little, and the retail crowd learned a lot if they were paying attention. Several museums such as the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, and the Rochester Museum and Science Center continue to use Cottone Auctions to deaccession. In some cases, it can be similar to visiting a museum by going to Cottone’s sales.

We don’t know if a Republican or a Democrat bought this, but it certainly is a conversation piece. The painted elephant carousel figure, 35" high x 49" long, estimated at $5000/8000, probably by Charles Looff, reached a high of $27,600 near the end of the sale. It was consigned by the Strong National Museum of Play.

“We got the merchandise, which is always the hard part. We did good marketing. We had great provenances and lots of competition in the bidding,” said Matt Cottone. “And people have confidence in our auction house.” Take that advice to the bank in a Brink’s truck after you have put out the fires.

For more information, visit the web-site ( or call (585) 243-1000.

Originally published in the June 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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