Purchase Story

The Collection of Ruth Bryson

Pook & Pook, Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Photos courtesy Pook & Pook

In 1982 Ruth Bryson and her husband, Jack, bought a stone farmhouse in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, in the southern part of Lancaster County. After they restored it and filled it with appropriate Pennsylvania antiques, Ruth opened her antiques shop in a barn on the property and called it Country Lane Antiques. Collectors found her at shows and then beat a path to her door. She loved Pennsylvania German furniture, baskets, fraktur, iron, copper, and especially painted boxes. In this sale there were nine painted boxes of all sizes by Jonas Weber, including a comb box and a rare slide-lid box, plus a carved songbird. She had three boxes decorated by the Compass Artist—one big one, one medium size, and one small—bought between 1992 and 2002.

This 4 7/8" x 7 3/8" Jonas Weber vibrantly painted pine dresser box retains its original decoration of flowers and a house in a landscape on a yellow ground and is inscribed on the underside “Made in 1850….” It sold for $48,800 (est. $12,000/18,000). The auctioneer opened the bidding at $6000, and when it got to $10,000 the bidder on the phone said $30,000, asking if it was enough; it wasn’t. It had been purchased at Horst Auction on November 14, 1992.

This 19th-century 6 1/2" x 7 3/8" poplar dome-lid box painted by the Compass Artist, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, retains its original pinwheel flower decoration on a blue-green ground. It sold for $39,040 (est. $12,000/18,000). A similar example sold at Pook & Pook on October 1, 2011, for $42,660. Bryson bought hers at Conestoga Auction on May 4, 2002.

This Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Chippendale walnut dressing table, circa 1770, with a thumb-molded top overhanging the case with a shell- and spandrel-carved drawer, above a relief-carved skirt, supported by cabriole legs terminating in ball-and-claw feet, 29" x 38¼" x 24", sold for $53,680 (est. $10,000/15,000) to dealer Philip Bradley.

This 84¼" x 49" Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, painted pine and poplar two-part Dutch cupboard, circa 1830, retains its original vibrant faux tiger and crotch-grain decoration with smoke-decorated doors. It sold for $47,500 (est. $10,000/15,000) online. It last sold at Horst Auction on January 3, 2001.

Ruth Bryson had a good eye, and she was determined. When she wanted something at auction, she usually got it. Ronald Pook said when he saw her at a sale he knew he would probably not get what he went for. She paid top dollar. Some of her expensive purchases kept their value—and some did not—when her collection was sold at Pook & Pook on April 14 in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, to a full house of enthusiastic bidders.
Ruth died in 2017 after a long illness. When her husband, Jack, moved to a retirement community, he decided to sell their collection. “Our two sons and daughter and grandchildren did not want the entire collection,” said Jack Bryson at the preview party for the sale.

Jack Bryson went to the preview every day to meet collectors who had come to take another look at things that Ruth would not part with when they had gone to her house to make an offer.


This “Schtockschnitzler” Simmons (active 1885-1910), Berks County, Pennsylvania, 10" high carved and painted Carolina parrot on a turned base retains its original polychrome surface and sold for $15,860 (est. $8000/12,000) to dealer Philip Bradley for a client. For a similar example, see the sale of the Richard and Rosemarie Machmer collection at Pook & Pook, October 24 and 25, 2008, for one that sold for $10,530. Ruth Bryson bought this one for $14,300 at Conestoga Auction on November 15, 2003.

This Jonas Weber painted pine dresser box is inscribed “Anna Eby, 1850” and retains its original decoration with flowers and a house in a landscape on a blue ground. It sold for $15,680 (est. $12,000/18,000). Bryson purchased the mid-19th-century 6" x 10¼" box at Donlinger Auction in Kinzers, Pennsylvania, on July 10, 1993.

This Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, painted poplar dome-lid box, 10½" x 16¾", by the Compass Artist, early 19th century, retains its original pinwheel flowers on a blue-green ground. It was purchased at the sale of the Eva Shaeffer estate on September 7, 1991, conducted by A. Charles Singleton. At Pook & Pook it sold for $26,840 to New Oxford, Pennsylvania, dealer Kelly Kinzle in the salesroom. It lacks a hasp, the hinges have been replaced, nails have been added to secure the dovetails, and it needs cleaning.
   For similar examples, see lot 210 of Pook & Pook’s sale of the collection of Esther and Donald Shelley, April 20 and 21, 2007, which sold for $374,400 to C.L. Prickett, and lot 18 from Pook & Pook’s October 24 and 25, 2008, sale of the collection of Richard and Rosemarie Machmer, which sold for $39,780.

This 2 1/2" x 3 7/8" mid-19th-century Jonas Weber painted pine dresser box retains its original decoration of flowers and a house in a landscape on a black ground. It sold for $21,960 (est. $3000/5000). Ruth Bryson bought it at a Horst auction in September 1992.

The sale played to a sophisticated audience and a full house. “It was our biggest crowd in three years,” said Debra Pook. “We put out every chair available. There was no center aisle.”

On Friday afternoon, scholar and author Lisa Minardi, the recently appointed curator of the Historical Society of Trappe, Collegeville, and Perkiomen Valley, which oversees the Dewees Tavern Museum and the Henry Muhlenberg House in the town of Trappe, Pennsylvania, held a study session on the three dome boxes by the Lancaster County Compass Artist and the nine Weber boxes. Many did not know that Jonas Weber also carved tiny songbirds. A 2¾" high painted yellow and black Weber bird that Ruth Bryson bought at Horst Auction Center in 1992 sold at Pook & Pook for $6100 (includes buyer’s premium) to dealer Greg Kramer; it was estimated at $800/1200. Minardi explained how the Compass Artist boxes were constructed, inscribed, and then sawn into two sections after the inscribed decorations were painted, and how sometimes they were cut right though a dovetail before the hinges were added.

Collectors and dealers were lured to the sale by the collection because it had been off the market for a generation. Well presented in the catalog with good color pictures, it looked even better in person. And when the sale was over, bidders in the room, on the phones, and online had spent $1,083,005 for 321 lots, with 98% sold. The energy in the salesroom was similar to the old days.

Several lots soared over estimates. A Lancaster walnut dressing table, circa 1770, with a thumb-molded top, carved skirt, shell-carved drawer, and cabriole legs with carved knees and ball-and-claw feet sold for $53,680 (est. $10,000/15,000) to dealer Philip Bradley, who within the next year will move his business from Downingtown to Montgomery County. The largest of the Weber boxes—painted yellow with a house flanked by two trees on the front and red tulips on each side—went to a phone bidder for $48,800 (est. $12,000/18,000). The bidder jumped a bid from $10,000 to $30,000, but that was not enough—he had to go to $40,000 to win it. The middle-size Compass Artist box was in the best condition of the three, and it sold for $39,040 (est. $12,000/18,000). A Bucks County painted pine slide-lid box decorated by John Drissel (1762-1846) seemed to be a bargain at $18,300 (est. $12,000/18,000). It went to Philip Bradley. Ruth Bryson had paid $82,500 for it at the Conestoga Auction Company sale of the Elgin collection on April 3, 2004.


This large Pennsylvania rye straw lidded basket, 19th century, 22" x 22", was purchased at Conestoga Auction on November 4, 2000. At Pook & Pook it sold for $4880 (est. $1000/2000). It’s one of the best of its kind.


Pennsylvania painted pine hanging corner cupboard, circa 1800, retaining an old green surface with a sponge-decorated door, 33" x 25", sold for $19,520 (est. $3000/4000).

This Jonas Weber painted pine dresser box, retaining its original decoration of flowers and a house in a landscape
on a rare orange ground, 2 1/8" x 4 1/4", sold for $36,600 (est. $5000/10,000). The tiny boxes were expensive. It was bought at Horst Auction on November 23, 1991.

Susan Waters (1823-1900), oil on canvas landscape with sheep and a dog, signed and inscribed reverse “Bordentown, N.J,” retaining a period giltwood frame, 24" x 36", sold for $36,600 (est. $3000/5000) to a collector in the salesroom. It was bought at a Gustave White sale in July 1993.

An oil painting by Susan Waters (1823-1900),  a landscape with sheep and a dog, signed and inscribed on the back “Bordentown, N.J.,”had hung over the Brysons’ fireplace for more than a quarter century. It sold to a collector in the salesroom for $36,600 (est. $3000/5000).

There was prolonged bidding for a Lancaster County painted pine and poplar two-part Dutch cupboard with faux crotch graining and smoke-decorated doors. It sold on Bidsquare for $47,500 (est. $10,000/15,000), underbid in the salesroom. “It was the fourth or fifth Dutch cupboard we had,” said Jack Bryson. “This is the one she kept.”

Ruth Bryson knew what was good, and she bought the best she could afford in every category. For example, where could you find a better large rye straw lidded basket than the one she bought at the sale of the Machmer collection at Conestoga Auction? Pook estimated it would sell for $1000/2000; it sold for $4880! A walnut slaw board with a heart cutout, pinwheel carvings, and a chip-carved edge that she bought for $2090 at the sale of the Elgin collection at Conestoga Auction in April 2004 sold for $2074 (est. $200/300), while ordinary slaw boards with heart cutouts but no other embellishments sold for $122, $152.50, $366, and $549. There are still collectors who appreciate her fine eye.



This Jonas Weber painted pine dresser box, retaining its original decoration of flowers and a house in a landscape on a red ground, 2 7/8" x 5 1/4", that Ruth Bryson bought from John Staubach in August 1992 sold for $6710 (est. $3000/5000).


This Jonas Weber small Pennsylvania carved and painted songbird, late 19th century, retaining its original polychrome surface, 2¾" high, exhibited at the Heritage Center Museum, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the 1990s, bought at Horst Auction on November 14, 1992, sold at Pook & Pook for $6100 (est. $800/1200).

Ruth Bryson knew how to find the rarities. Lisa Minardi paid $5124 (est. $500/800) for a rare Newmanstown, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, red, light green, blue, and tan jacquard coverlet with a double star border, birds, trees, and floral and leaf designs, inscribed “Henry Philpy 1836 New St. Davit Kaill.” It is one of only four known.

Redware generally sold well, and so did reproduction furniture. A set of eight Drew Lausch (1936-2006) Lancaster-style Windsor side chairs made in 1992 sold for $9150 (est. $2000/4000), and two Steve Cherry comb-back Windsor chairs sold for $1586 and $1708, topping their $1000 high estimates. Prices for watercolors by Maentel and for fraktur depended on condition, size, and design.

For more information, go on-line to (www.pookandpook.com) or call (610) 269-4040.

This 4" x 4½" 19th-century Compass Artist painted poplar dome-lid box, Pennsylvania, retaining its original floral decoration on a blue-green ground, sold for $31,720 (est. $8000/12,000). It was purchased at Horst Auction on May 27, 1991. A similar example sold at Pook & Pook on October 27, 2012, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Flack for $17,775.

By Jacob Maentel (1763-1863), this 9¾" x 7¾" watercolor folk portrait of John Martin Litzel in front of his family’s farm near Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, that Ruth Bryson bought at Conestoga Auction on June 7, 2003, sold at Pook & Pook for $34,160 (est. $8000/12,000).


Originally published in the May 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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