Purchase Story

Fine and Decorative Art, Including Americana

Cowan’s Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio

Photos courtesy Cowan’s Auctions

For the third time in less than five months, Cowan’s Auctions has sold an Andrew Clemens (1857-1894) sand bottle for a six-figure price.

The most recent sale came during an auction of fine and decorative art on February 23 in Cincinnati. The bottle featured a floral wreath around the date 1887 on one side, while the other side depicted an eagle flying with a 36-star flag. The 8½" high bottle had a reproduction label on the base and sold for $102,000 (including buyer’s premium), against an estimate of $35,000/45,000. It wasn’t the first time Cowan’s had handled the piece. The bottle had previously sold for $9775 in June 2006.

Andrew Clemens (1857-1894) sand bottle, the other side decorated with a floral wreath around the date 1887, this side showing an eagle flying with a 36-star flag, 8½" high, reproduction label on the bottom of the bottle, $102,000 (est. $35,000/45,000).

“It is a beautiful size. The colors are vibrant. It was done at the height of Clemens’s skill, probably in the mid-1880s, a few years before he died. It has everything one would want to see in a great Clemens bottle,” said Wes Cowan, vice chairman of the company.

Clemens, a deaf-mute from McGregor, Iowa, used colorful sands from the region to create what are considered masterpieces of folk art.

In October 2018 Cowan’s had sold two sand bottles by Clemens. First up was an example having a nautical theme with several sailing ships on open water and a steamer in the background. The other side featured an eagle flying with an American flag. The bottle sold for $108,000 (est. $35,000/45,000), a record price. Immediately afterward that mark was broken when the next lot brought $132,000 (est. $25,000/35,000). That sand bottle had a floral design under a woman’s name. The back depicted an eagle flying with an American flag. At the time, Cowan called the results “astonishing prices.”

The $102,000 paid in February was no less impressive, in part because of how shallow the market is for Clemens sand bottles at that level. Two people have driven the most recent prices at Cowan’s. Remove either bidder from the equation, and the likelihood of a six-figure price—or anything close to it—is almost unfathomable.

Cowan was pleasantly surprised by the price. “I wasn’t expecting it at all,” he said. However, he expressed some skepticism that the market will be able to hold that pace in the future, because of the small number of buyers who can afford to keep their bid paddles in the air for so long. “It’s a market that at this level is driven by a handful of collectors,” he said.

Potentially making that point was a Clemens sand bottle offered by Skinner one week later, on March 2. That example, which had a simple floral design around the date 1876 on one side and on the opposite side an eagle flying with an American flag, sold for $12,300 (est. $10,000/15,000). The result was likely a matter of who the major players were in the bidding.

“It was a perfectly great, early bottle by Clemens, and if you’re buying for historical purposes, you have to have it,” said Cowan. “I guarantee you he had one or two bidders. One of my guys was not on it. I don’t know that for sure, but I suspect it.”

Johannes Spitler paint-decorated blanket chest, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 1790-1800, yellow pine with blue, white, and salmon paint, symmetrical pinwheel design on the front, a feathered decoration on the sides, 24" high x 50¼" wide, replaced bracket base, paint loss and fading throughout, no visible paint to the lid, $43,200 (est. $15,000/25,000).

Pair of monumental Ohio sewer tile horses, foliage details, late 19th or early 20th century, each 19" high x 22½" long, light glaze to both bases and one figure, $1440 (est. $800/1200).

Pair of Minton pâte-sur-pâte moon flasks in an olive-green glaze, with gilt trim and with roundels of cherubs climbing grid work, initialed “AM” for decorator Arthur Morgan, English, circa 1890, one vase marked, the other with the mark presumably obscured by the paper label of London retailer A.B. Daniell, each 6" high, minor gilt loss to feet on each, $10,200 (est. $8000/12,000).

Giltwood triptych depicting the Virgin Mary and child in the center panel, each side panel depicting an attendant, inscribed “Ave Maria Gratia Plena” at the base, Gothic Revival style, Italian, likely late 18th or early 19th century, 27¾" high x 23½" wide (open), with cracking to the paint, wear to the wood, wormholes on the back, and paint and gesso losses, especially to side panels, $13,200 (est. $1000/1500).

Fond Memories by Charles Wysocki (1928-2002), oil on canvas, signed, titled on the stretcher, 25½" x 29¾" plus frame, $6765 (est. $2000/3000).

A sand bottle wasn’t the only piece of Americana playing a major role in Cowan’s February auction. From Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a Johannes Spitler paint-decorated blanket chest sold for $43,200 (est. $15,000/25,000), the second-highest price of the day. Dating to 1790-1800, the blanket chest of yellow pine featured symmetrical pinwheels on the front and a feathered design on the sides. There was paint loss and fading, and the lid was nearly bare. Additionally, the bracket base was replaced. The chest measured 24" high x 50¼" wide.

Research suggests that the blanket chest was made in Virginia, before Spitler’s move to Ohio in 1807. The auction catalog noted that the chest had descended in the family of David Strickler (1771-1815) or his wife, Elizabeth Grove (1769-1845), whose daughter Elizabeth, along with her husband, Samuel Neff, moved to Champaign County, Ohio, about 1830. The Stricklers were early settlers of Massanutten, Virginia, where they were neighbors of Spitler. It is believed the chest had moved with the family to Ohio, where it remained for the last 188 years. The chest was acquired in Champaign County at a 1974 estate auction of Simon Joseph Whitemore (1899-1973), a direct descendant of the Stricklers.

“It was fun to handle one, probably the only one I ever will, and it was great it came from Ohio,” Cowan said of the Spitler blanket chest. “It’s emblematic of the restless movement of people from the East continually going to the West.”

Cowan added that the provenance helped drive the price. Key in finding that information were Nick Powers of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley and auctioneer Jeffrey Evans, who holds the record price for the sale of a piece of Spitler furniture. “That’s what’s fun about the business,” said Cowan. “There is a lot of collegiality among peers.”

Indiana landscape by Theodore Clement Steele (1847-1926), oil on canvas, signed and dated 1900, 19½" x 23½" (sight size), $33,210 (est. $8000/10,000). The town in the background is likely Brookville, Indiana.

The third-highest lot in the auction was an Indiana landscape by Theodore Clement Steele (1847-1926), oil on canvas, signed and dated 1900, that sold for $33,210 (est. $8000/10,000). The 19½" x 23½" work pictured a hilly scene with a dirt road leading toward a distant town, which was believed to be Brookville, Indiana, where Steele lived for a time.

The attributed location was just one factor that helped increase interest in the work. Pauline Archambault, a specialist at Cowan’s, noted several others. “It was sizable. It was clean. It was untouched. The condition made it exceptional in that regard,” she said. The final price, she added, was in line with the market for similar landscapes by Steele.

“There’s a lot of ups and downs with that market, and it always depends on the quality of the works,” she continued. “I would say it is definitely a market not as strong as it used to be. We were cautious with the estimate, and it proves exceptional pieces will still do well. Good quality, good size, will do well.”

For more information, phone Cowan’s at (513) 871-1670 or visit (www.cowans.com).

Old master portrait of a woman, oil on panel, unsigned, 13¼" x 9½" plus gilt frame, colors appear washed out, losses (long, vertical lines), the back reinforced, spots of inpainting, $5700 (est. $500/700).

Renaissance dome-top casket in rosewood with more than 250 pieces of bone inlay depicting animals, birds, and flowers, south Germany, likely Augsburg, 16th or early 17th century, 12" high x 20¾" wide, damage to veneer on the corners, some losses to the inlay, stains and wear to the interior silk lining, upper lock mount detached but present, $8400 (est. $3000/5000).

Tiffany & Co. silver flask with an engraved presentation to Robert Todd Lincoln, circa 1890, lettered “To / Robert T. Lincoln / as a souvenir of his friend / James Clarence Post,” the lid monogrammed for Lincoln, 6" high x 3½" wide, $6000 (est. $6000/8000).

Folk art pouch made from fabric, paper, and pressed board (possibly an old book cover), having three drawn and colored scenes, interior signed “J.D. Hope,” mid to third quarter of the 19th century, 6½" high x 9¼" wide, fading to cover drawing of a man on horseback, fabric discolored, partially unglued at the inner top pouch, tear to lower pouch, wear and losses to back cover, $400 (est. $300/500).

Electric phonograph lamp by Burns-Pollock Electric Manufacturing Company, Indiana Harbor, Indiana, 20th century, octagonal cloth shade decorated with black crocheted cover and hanging tassels, 28" high, stains and toning to the cloth, small hole, $1680 (est. $1000/1500).

Bird in flight, carved and painted wood with metal wings and glass eyes, Cape May, New Jersey, early 20th century, original paint including a red crest, two original eye hooks on the upper body suggesting that the bird was meant to hang, perhaps as an outdoor whimsy, “T. Crain” painted in block letters on the underside of one wing and “Cape May” painted on the underside of the other wing, 27" long x 33½" wide, mounted on a later stand, $1560 (est. $1000/1500).

Full-bodied pig weathervane in copper, possibly by L.W. Cushing & Sons, circa 1880, on a later metal stand, 20" high x 36" long, traces of gilding, $4920 (est. $3000/5000).

Full-bodied pig weathervane in copper, possibly by L.W. Cushing & Sons, circa 1880, on a later metal stand, 20" high x 36" long, traces of gilding, $4920 (est. $3000/5000).

George III sterling silver chinoiserie coffeepot by John Swift, London, 1765, repoussé and chased Rococo motifs, including Chinese figures, pagodas, and birds, wooden handle, marked, 12¾" high, minor dents and scratches, upper section of the handle loose, $13,200 (est. $4000/6000).

Federal bowfront chest of drawers in burled walnut with inlay, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, or Baltimore, Maryland, 1785-1800, the drawer fronts lined with August and September 1799 Lancaster County Gazette newspapers, 38" high x 38" wide, age splits and surface wear, repairs, and losses, $7200 (est. $2000/4000).

Sugar desk in cherry, attributed to Kentucky, circa 1800, the slant top concealing a fitted interior with two spice drawers and two compartments, the case with rope inlay above the shaped apron, on turned and reeded legs, 37" high x 30¾" wide, some age splits, $9225 (est. $15,000/25,000).

Folk art painting of a whale with two ships in the background, oil on canvas, illegibly signed and inscribed “copy,” 20th century, 17¼" x 23¼" plus frame, craquelure, small abrasions, and paint loss, $1845 (est. $600/800).

Queen Anne highboy, Massachusetts, circa 1740, maple with Spanish brown paint, 66½" high x 37" wide, break to a board on the top, backboards to the upper case possibly replaced, all legs with splits and possible repairs, $10,200 (est. $5000/7000).


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

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