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Sotheby's New York. Important Americana, January 22-23, 2010.
Property Descended in the Family of Commodore Joshua Loring. A Highly Important American Silver Punch Bowl, Cornelius Kierstede, New York, 1700-1710. Diameter approximately 12 ¼ in. Length over handles 17 ¼ in.
Estimate: $400,000 - $800,000.
by Wendy Moonan

The opening night of the Winter Antiques Show
on the third Thursday of January used to signal the start of New York’s winter social season. It was the party where affluent collectors and society names convened to show off holiday tans, catch up on gossip and shop for American antiques in the name of charity.

And yes, at the benefit preview this Thursday, you can expect to see patrons like Lily Safra, Donald E. Newhouse, Peter M. Brant and Margaret Scaife.

But New York’s Americana Week really kicks off days earlier now. Last Saturday [Jan 15] well-heeled collectors from across America began streaming into town to attend the auction house previews and visit the 11th annual New York Ceramics Fair, a 4-day show that opens on Wednesday with 37 international dealers of antique porcelain and earthenware, at the National Academy of Design (1083 Fifth Ave. at 89th St.).

A whimsical cat and mouse teapot from dealer Charles L. Washburne on view at the11th annual New York Ceramics Fair.
The American Antiques Show, January 21-24, 2010. Drossos P. Skyllas (1912-1973), Untitled, Dianna with Necklace, c. 1950-53. Oil on canvas, 47 x 35 inches. Ricco/Maresca Gallery.
(The ceramics fair is scheduled to coincide with the other shows because collectors of Americana decorate with early ceramics, particularly Chinese Export porcelain.)

Since the Winter Antiques Show has now expanded into new areas (mid-century modern and European antiques), passionate collectors of Americana are convening to see the wares offered by the 41 dealers at the American Antiques Show, a fund-raising event for the American Folk Art Museum that opens Thursday at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th St., in Chelsea.

This January is an especially good season for buyers.

“It’s a good time to buy because there are wonderful opportunities,” said John Hays, the longtime Americana specialist at Christie’s.

He may be right.

For the auctions beginning on Thursday, Christie’s was allowed to set attractive (i.e., low) estimates for lots from the estates of Mary Frances Couper, a Houston collector and philanthropist; bond dealer Thomas J. Carroll of Philadelphia; and St. Louis brokerage house owner Benjamin F. Edwards III (the 400-lot Edwards sale is packed with sets of fine English silver and brass).

Low estimates lead to buzz, high attendance at sales and occasional irrational exuberance during bidding.

Christie’s lot 179, a fine mid-18th-century Chippendale mahogany dressing table made in Salem, MA with tiny carved pinwheels on its apron, is estimated at only $100,000 - $150,000, even though ball-and-claw-foot dressing tables are extremely rare and its near mate is in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Is the low estimate a come-on?

“Today, people are looking for bargains,” Hays said. “We cannot be too bold with estimates. We want people to come to the auction.”
Christie's New York. The Collection of Benjamin F. Edwards III, January 26, 2010.
A Pair of Regency Silver Wine Coolers. Mark of Paul Storr, London, 1811.
Estimate: $70,000 - $100,000.
Christie's New York. The Collection of Benjamin F. Edwards III, January 26, 2010.
A Queen Anne Silver Teapot on Stand. Mark of John Chartier, London, 1706.
Estimate $80,000 - $120,000.
Similarly, Sotheby’s is selling nearly 300 lots of Chinese Export Porcelain from the private collection of Elinor Gordon, a beloved dealer (and onetime Powers model) who died last year after more than 50 years in the business. (Her clients included Mrs. Walter Annenberg, Pierre du Pont, Congressman Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, John Dorrance III and Mrs. Henry Ford II.)

“This collection offers something for every collector at every level,” said Christina Prescott-Walker, a specialist at Sotheby’s. “The estimates are pretty realistic.” She expects Gordon’s friends at the Jan 23rd sale; a recent lecture about the collection sold out in Boston.
Sotheby's New York. Chinese Export Porcelain from the Private Collection of Elinor Gordon, January 23, 2009.

A Chinese Export 'Order of the Cincinnati' Plate, circa 1785, Diameter 9 3/4 in.
Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000.
One 10-inch-wide Chinese Export plate with the badge of the Order of Cincinnati, circa 1785, is from the earliest service that Henry Lee purchased on behalf of George Washington (Lee is the officer who famously said of Washington: "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.")

The estimate is $30,000 - $50,000.

Such plates were given only to commissioned officers who served under Washington in the American Revolution. They remain prized possessions to those officers’ descendants.
Christie's New York. Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver & Chinese Export, 21 - 25 January 2010.

A Chippendale Carved And Figured Mahogany Scalloped-Top Tea Table.
Estimate: $100,000 - $300,000.
Christie's New York. Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver & Chinese Export, 21 - 25 January 2010.

A fine mid-18th-century Chippendale mahogany dressing table made in Salem, MA.
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000.
At the lower end is lot 33, a pair of Chinese Export cobalt blue bowls and saucers with gilded floral borders that’s estimated at $700 to $900.

A few other important highlights at the auction houses, on view until the sales start Thursday:

*At Christie’s, a large double portrait of a brother and sister in the Ludington family by Ammi Phillips, circa 1850. A direct descendant consigned it, so it has a golden provenance, and Phillips portraits are among the most prized in folk art. (Estimate: $300,000 - $400,000.)
Christie's New York. Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver & Chinese Export, 21 - 25 January 2010.

A large double portrait of a brother and sister in the Ludington family by Ammi Phillips, circa 1850. Estimate: $300,000 - $400,000.
Christie's New York. Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver & Chinese Export, 21 - 25 January 2010.

A Memento Mori Engraved Gold Watch Key with Lock of Hair of Martha Wayles Jefferson; French or English, Late 18th or Early 19th Century. Estimate: $40,000 - $80,000.
“The stylized figures, almost like Matisse cut-outs, give the picture a modern feel,” said Margot Rosenberg, Christie’s folk art specialist. “That’s why collectors of post-war art are attracted to Phillips.”

*Christie’s has Thomas Jefferson’s gold watch key, a memento mori engraved case complete with a tiny braid of Martha Jefferson’s strawberry blond hair. (She died age 24.)

*At Sotheby’s, an early American silver punch bowl made about 1700 by a Dutch craftsman, Cornelius Kierstede of New York. Oddly, it is engraved with flowers whose petals boast weird human and animal faces, though you wouldn’t see much when it’s full (it holds 28 cups!).

It descended in the family of Commodore Joshua Loring, a rich privateer and Loyalist in the early 1700s whose residence outside Boston is now a house museum.
Sotheby's New York, Important Americana, January 22-23, 2010.
Details of A Highly Important American Silver Punch Bowl, Cornelius Kierstede,
New York, 1700-1710.
The family buried the bowl during the Revolutionary War, dug it up at the conclusion and took it to England, where it remained for 230 years. (The Met has a smaller version by the same maker.)

“It is one of the heaviest pieces of pre-Revolutionary New York silver known,” said silver specialist Kevin Tierney. “It is a form unique to New York.”

*Sotheby’s also has a handsome mahogany slant-front bombe desk, circa 1770, made in Marblehead, MA, one of only 12 known surviving examples of the form.

So if it’s a buyers market, is it a bad time to sell?

“If you have a reason to sell, go ahead,” said Nancy Druckman, the folk art specialist at Sotheby’s. “Our sales are smaller now, but the sell-through percentages are enormous.”
Sotheby's New York, Important Americana, January 22-23, 2010.
The Important Ranlett-Rust Family Chippendale Figured Mahogany Bombé Slant-Front Desk, Marblehead, Massachusetts, circa 1770. Estimate: $400,000-$1,000,000.
Sotheby's New York, Important Americana, January 22-23, 2010.
A Fine and Rare Molded Copper Figure of an Indian with Bow and Arrow, probably Harris & Co., Boston, circa 1880. Estimate: $100,000 - $200,000.
She pointed out one sure-seller: a whimsical 8-foot-tall copper weathervane of a knight in shinning armor astride a rearing horse.

Joseph Urban, the Viennese architect who immigrated to America in 1912 to do opera sets, created the vane for a life-size gingerbread fairy tale castle in an amusement park in Hamburg, NJ.

Urban designed dozens of productions for the Metropolitan Opera and the Ziegfield Follies but is best remembered as the architect of Mar-A-Lago, currently Donald Trump’s clubhouse in Palm Beach, and the Hearst Tower in New York.
The American Antiques Show, January 21-24, 2010.
Rooster weathervane, J. Howard & Company, mid 19th century, metal.
Allan Katz Americana.
John Loring, the former director of design at Tiffany & Co., has just written Urban’s biography, due out January 2011, and the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach is organizing an Urban exhibition.

“Anything exquisite sells well,” said Joan M. Johnson, a collector of Americana who is associate chairman of the Philadelphia Antiques Show.

“It’s always a timing issue you cannot predict,” said Michigan dealer Tim Hill. “This may not be the best time to sell a COLLECTION, but things of individual merit WILL sell. It depends on the object and how powerful a work of art it is, its quality and rarity.”
The American Antiques Show, January 21-24, 2010.
Theorem painting on velvet, 19th century.
Joan R. Brownstein.
[Whether “To Buy – or Sell” is the subject of a panel, comprising Americana collectors, dealers and specialists, that this writer will moderate on Thursday at the American Antiques Show, 9:30 – 11. For tickets, call 212-977-7170 Ext. 319 or visit www.theamericanantiquesshow.org.]
Photographs courtesy of Sotheby's.
Photographs courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2010.
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