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Purchase Story

Discoveries in Downingtown

Lita Solis-Cohen | April 29th, 2017

Pook & Pook, Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Photos courtesy Pook & Pook

Pook & Pook’s combined international and Americana sale on Saturday, April 29, was offered in a slim catalog. There was no Friday evening party followed by an evening session of selling plus an all-day Saturday sale, which has been the usual format for Pook’s catalog sales. The May 1 and 2 online decorative arts sale was available for viewing during the preview for the live sale.

Thinner pickings and a sparser crowd at the live auction did not mean there were no surprises or strong prices, along with good buys. Five phone bidders knew there was something special about a gold Serab room-size carpet, 14'6" x 11'3", and it sold for $31,720 (includes buyer’s premium), well over its estimate (est. $2000/4000).

Five phone bidders competed for this Serab carpet, circa 1910, 14'6" x 11'3", that sold for $31,720 (est. $2000/4000).

A fraktur right from the original family is a rare find these days. A bright watercolor scherenschnitte fraktur with flowers, hearts, and birds, 12" x 15", in nearly pristine condition was a discovery. According to the catalog it is similar to a fraktur by Jacob Botz that is cataloged as a “masterpiece” and is in the collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Only two phone bidders battled for it, and it sold on the phone for a strong $67,100 (est. $20,000/40,000), the highest price of the sale and a record for the artist. Botz was a schoolmaster and fraktur artist in Manor Township, Lancaster County, who made birth certificates, primarily for Mennonite families. Most were scherenschnitten highlighted in bright watercolors with carefully rendered fraktur script in red and black ink.

Done by Jacob Botz (active 1775-90) of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this 12" x 15" ink and watercolor scherenschnitte fraktur has a central script surrounded by eight hearts with script and highly intricate cutwork of flowers and birds. It sold for $67,100 (est. $20,000/40,000) on the phone, underbid on the phone. This example is in near pristine condition with exceptional color and only a few small losses to the cutwork. It descended in the family to the consignor. A similar work by Botz is in the collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

North Carolina collector Terry Seaks, a regular at Pook sales, made another important discovery. He bought a Pennsylvania walnut slant-lid desk for $2440 (est. $500/1000). Early in the morning before the sale, he pulled out the right document drawer and found inscribed in ink on its side the words “February 22th/1800 this Desk Bought price Nine pound and made by Richard Holcombe and Sold by Samuel Holcombe Jnr.” Apparently the cataloger missed the inscription and did not note it in the catalog, and the underbidder, dealer Greg Kramer of Robesonia, Pennsylvania, said he had not noticed the inscription either. Other collectors and dealers who previewed the sale missed it as well.

Pennsylvania walnut slant-front desk, circa 1780, 43" high x 38" wide, sold for $2440 (est. $500/1000) to North Carolina collector Terry Seaks, underbid in the salesroom by Greg Kramer. Seaks found an inscription in the right document drawer reading “February 22th/1800 this Desk Bought price Nine pound and made by Richard Holcombe and Sold by Samuel Holcombe Jnr.” With the help of Alexandra Kirtley, curator of American decorative arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Seaks has found that Richard Holcombe’s father, John, died in Solebury, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1817, “advanced in years,” and that he had two sons, Samuel and Richard Holcombe. Assuming they remained in Solebury, the desk is a documented piece of Bucks County furniture. Cory Amsler at the Mercer Museum in Bucks County said he found that the Holcombe brothers were born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Bucks County, and both married Bucks County women. Samuel moved to Upper Makefield, Bucks County. Both were listed as carpenters.

“I bought the desk for a friend, a doctor in D.C. too busy to come to the sale,” said Seaks. “I told him I would find him a desk comparable to the one I bought last spring at Pook and Pook for $2800. I could not imagine I would find one documented with the name of the maker, its date, and price. A scholar friend told me that nine pounds was about forty dollars in 1800.” Although the dollar was U.S. currency in 1783, the pound continued to be used in the early years of the next century. Seaks said genealogical research found Holcombes living in Solebury, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A John Holcombe, “advanced in years,” died in Solebury Township on December 18, 1817, and his sons, Samuel and Richard Holcombe, were the executors of his will.

Cory Amsler, vice president of collections at the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle, said that W.W.H. Davis’s History of Bucks County mentions the Holcombe family who were English Quakers. Samuel married in 1797 and located to Upper Makefield Township, Bucks County. Both Samuel and his younger brother, Richard, were born in Amwell Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Richard’s wife, Rachel, was from Solebury, Bucks County, so it is possible that both Richard and Samuel, listed as carpenters, settled in Bucks County. There is a 1744 Richard Holcombe house with an 1811 addition, outbuildings, and six acres on Route 29 just north of Lambertville in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. It is across the Delaware River from Bucks County. It was advertised for sale in 2015 for a minimum bid of $250,000. Perhaps more research will reveal more about the cabinetmaker. Notwithstanding, Terry Seaks has added the name of a Delaware Valley cabinetmaker to American furniture history.

There were two other slant-lid desks in the sale, and they seemed like good buys too. A George III mahogany desk with rococo brasses and a fretwork interior brought the same price as the Pennsylvania Holcombe desk, $2440 (est. $1000/2000), and an earlier Pennsylvania walnut desk, circa 1760, sold for $976 (est. $500/1000).

In this soft market for American furniture, butter prints sold for more than desks. Two lots of rare butter prints, estimated at $300/500, were offered toward the end of the sale, and they sold to two different phone bidders for well over the estimates. A tulip print dated 1834 with the initials “SM” sold for $4392, and the next lot, consisting of two eagle butter prints, one round and the other a rare oval form with a chip-carved handle, sold for $9150. Two collectors competed. Then a lot of three common butter prints—a cow, a pineapple, and a heart—sold for $281 (est. $200/400) to the trade on the phone, and it was back to business as usual.

Carved tulip butter print, dated 1834, initialed “SM,” 4 1/8" in diameter, sold on the phone for $4392 (est. $300/500).

Two carved and turned eagle butter prints, 19th century, the oval one with a chip-carved handle, 4 7/8" high x 3¾" wide, the other 4½" diameter, sold for $9150 (est. $300/500).

A Liverpool delft plate dated 1738 andinitialed “MML” for Michael and Mary Lightfoot is one of a small number of surviving plates made for Quaker families in Chester County. This one descended in the family to the consignor and sold for $29,280 (est. $15,000/20,000) to Philip Bradley. A similar one sold for $32,750 to C.L. Prickett on January 11, 2008, at Pook & Pook, underbid by Downingtown dealer Philip Bradley. These plates made for Chester County families are among the earliest documented delft made for the American market.

This rare Liverpool delft plate of Chester County, Pennsylvania, interest, dated 1738, initialed “MML” for Michael and Mary Lightfoot, belongs to a small number of surviving plates made for Quaker families in Chester County. This one descended in the family to the consignor and sold for $29,280 (est. $15,000/20,000) to dealer Philip Bradley. Another one sold for $32,750 at Pook & Pook on January 11, 2008, to C.L. Prickett, underbid by Bradley. These plates that were made for Chester County families are among the earliest documented delft made for the American market.

These Philadelphia Wood and Perot cast-iron Newfoundland dog garden figures with a painted surface, 1857-78, are 36" high x 65" long. This is the only pair known to exist. They sold for $56,120 (est. $50,000/70,000).

A pair of cast-iron life-size Newfoundland garden dogs made by Wood & Perot in Philadelphia, 1857-78, 36" high x 65" long, sold on the phone for $56,120 (est. $50,000/70,000). Pook & Pook hoped they would bring more.

A consignment of reproduction furniture made by Kindel for Winterthur sold above estimates. A mahogany blockfront secretary desk-and-bookcase with six shells in the Rhode Island manner sold for $6100 (est. $4000/6000). A mahogany high-post king-size bed sold for $6710 (est. $1000/1500). A mahogany wing chair with ball-and-claw feet and shells on its knees, upholstered in navy-blue velvet, seemed like a good buy at $1625 (est. $400/800). A reproduction Philadelphia dressing table with a shell-carved drawer and rococo carving on its skirt and knees brought the same price. Five Philadelphia rococo dining chairs sold for $2074. That was more than a set of eight late 18th-century Philadelphia mahogany ribbon-back dining chairs that sold for $1250 (est. $2000/2500). A Connecticut cherry chest-on-chest with a scrolled pediment and a Chapin-like reproduction cartouche, circa 1770, sold for $5000, which was less than the $6100 paid for the Kindel reproduction desk-and-bookcase, leading some to remark that reproductions brought more than period furniture.

Kindel Winterthur reproduction king-size mahogany tall-post bed, 89" high x 82" wide x 88" deep, sold for $6710 (est. $1000/1500).

There was a lot of competition among phone and online bidders, a left bid, and bidders in the salesroom for this small Ben Austrian (1870-1921) oil on canvas of two chicks tugging at a worm, signed lower right and dated 1908. Measuring only 8" x 10", it sold for $18,300 (est. $4000/6000). The buyer in the salesroom said it is probably a record per square inch for a Ben Austrian. With 80 square inches, the artwork’s value works out to over $225 per square inch.

This Anton Otto Fischer (1882-1962) oil on canvas illustration of pirates and their buried treasure, signed lower right and dated 1932, 55" x 34½", sold for $34,160 (est. $4000/6000), reflecting the strong market for illustrations.

The best of the paintings brought strong prices. A charming Ben Austrian oil on canvas of two chicks having a tug of war with a worm, signed and dated 1908, 8" x 10", sold for $18,300 (est. $4000/6000). An illustration of pirates with their buried treasure by Anton Otto Fischer (1882-1962), a student of Howard Pyle who settled in Woodstock, New York, sold for $34,160 (est. $4000/6000). Illustration art is a strong segment of the market.

A Bucks County sgraffito charger with a Donald Shelley provenance sold for $3500. Another with an Arthur Sussel provenance failed to sell.

Another disappointment was a portrait by Edward Hicks of Andrew Jackson with the phrase “The Old Democrat” that was estimated at $50,000/70,000 and failed to sell, as it had failed at Sotheby’s. Condition could have been the problem.

These rare Philadelphia fan-back Windsor armchairs, circa 1790, with volute ears and turnip feet, retain traces of the original green surface. The chairs are from a private California collection and sold on the phone for $12,200 (est. $3000/6000).

The sale of 454 of the 486 lots offered brought $967,249 with buyers’ premiums (the presale estimate was $591,200/964,400 figured without buyers’ premiums). Add to that an online sale of decorative art and Americana sold on May 1 and 2 that brought $348,212 for 1452 of the 1502 lots offered, and Pook & Pook took in $1,315,461 for the two sales. It appears that more and more Americana is being offered online these days, much of it previewed on computers only.

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Three historical blue Staffordshire toddy plates sold on the phone for $3172 (est. $200/400). One was a rare 4½" plate that dealer William Kurau of Lampeter, Pennsylvania, said was a cup plate with a very rare Hudson River view. “I had never seen one before,” he said. Another lot (not shown) of small blue transferware plates sold for $2684 (est. $400/600). The rare one in that lot has a view of the Passaic Falls and is 5 5/8" in diameter. “Any plate under five inches I call a cup plate, and there are a lot of cup plate collectors,” said Kurau. The 5" plates are called toddy plates.

This historical blue Staffordshire medallion plate with images of Jefferson, Lafayette, Clinton, and Washington and a central view of the entrance to the Erie Canal into the Hudson at Albany, 10" diameter, sold on the phone for a strong $4880 (est. $2000/3000). Much of the rest of the collection of historical blue Staffordshire offered in more than 60 lots sold in the range of $300 to $900, much of it to the trade. Not shown are a platter with the Upper Ferry Bridge in Philadelphia that sold for $1220 (est. $400/800), and an America and Independence or States platter showing a central image of a mansion with a foreground of a lake with swans that sold for $1586 (est. $800/1200).

Pair of painted cast-iron baseball player andirons, early 20th century, stamped “R.B.S.,” 19¼" high, sold for $5124 (est. $800/1200).

A matched pair (one shown) of folk art carved frames, 19th century, with mirrored high-relief floral and stag decoration, with minor wear and losses, 26¼" x 31½" and 19½" x 24¾", sold on the phone for $6875 (est. $1000/1500).

This New England silk chenille and metallic thread embroidery of Moses in the bulrushes, 17½" x 13½", sold for $5368 (est. $500/1000).

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

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