I just received a gift in the mail from the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (N.A.W.C.C.). They sent a cute tie tac in the form of a bracket clock, for 30 years of membership. Where did 30 years go? Yikes! Those were the days. Excellent clocks used to turn up at the regional meetings and great things could be found at the National Convention each year. If only I had the knowledge and capitol to take advantage of those opportunities. “I could have been a contender!. I used to look up to the clock experts, the ones who had the knowledge to buy a great clock. It didn’t take anywhere near as much money as it does now to buy something great.
We have just purchased a “$650.” highboy for $60 thousand! Although I wish the numbers were reversed, I’m thrilled with the discovery and acquisition. Situations like this are what make the antiques business so fascinating and have certainly helped to hold my interest through the years.
What happened is this: In mid February I received a letter from a panicked beneficiary of a trust, who informed me that several antique objects from her stepmother’s estate had been under-valued by an appraiser and were slated to be sold in 9 days by a remote Wyoming auctioneer. Fearing that the antiques would sell for a fraction of their value, she was bringing the auction to the attention of qualified dealers that she found on the internet.
The key object, an eighteenth century Massachusetts bonnet-top high chest had been valued by an appraiser for the trust at $650. According to the heir, the high chest was a valuable Queen Anne piece and had been part of a fine furniture exhibit at the highly regarded Western Reserve Historical Society in 1969. She sent me an image of it from the exhibition catalogue. She had my interest.
The auctioneer, who customarily sells farm equipment, store fixtures and bric-a-brac, had a sense that the highboy had some value, but was unaware of how much. After some phone conversations, I learned that the sale of the important pieces had been postponed until April 9th and arranged to bid by telephone. By sale day, there were 14 phone lines on the high chest, which likely necessitated borrowing cell phones from everyone in town. I guess that at least on some level, word was out.
To my horror, the woman who called to execute my phone bid explained through a garbled signal, that the cell service at the county fairgrounds was dreadful and she hoped that we would not be disconnected. I pleaded with her not to let the auctioneer knock down the piece unless I was on the line. I wasn’t sure if she heard my pleas when we were disconnected for the first time. After a few agonizing minutes and multiple attempts, she reached me again just as the piece was hitting the block. Somewhere around 20 thousand, we were again disconnected. She was able to temporarily halt the auction while I was called back. It seemed like an eternity! Bidding resumed. Some of the other phone bidders must have dropped out, because the next time the line went dead, I was called back by a man on a different phone. The final person that I spoke to was still a second woman. She told me that she was standing outside in the snow because the signal was better. I can picture all those friends and family of the auctioneer, standing out in the snow on their cell phones. The bidding finally stopped at 60 thousand. I assume that the audience applauded, but I didn’t get to hear it, what with the sound being muffled by falling snow and all.
Rewind to a few days before the auction when I received a phone call from a long time business associate, Frank Levy of Levy Galleries. Frank had also received correspondence regarding the piece and eagerly asked if I was aware of a Hingham, Massachusetts high chest coming up for sale. Aside from myself, (and maybe the under bidder) Frank is one of a relatively few people who would recognize the obscure and surprising origin of this high chest. A few years ago, during my research on early Southeastern Massachusetts furniture for Harbor & Home, Levy Galleries had been very helpful in sharing information with me. They had owned a similar high chest made by the same cabinetmaker which helped me uncover his identity. He turned out to be Elisha Cushing Jr. (1746-1829), who made clock cases and furniture on Main St. in Hingham, MA. Some of the design characteristics of his pieces, such as steeply pitched pediments and fluted pilasters have a strong Connecticut influence, but they were made in Massachusetts.
You can see an almost identical high chest, read about his furniture and the attribution in an article that I wrote for Magazine Antiques with Brock Jobe. You can view that high chest on our site too.
It seems as if all of the dealers that I speak to lately are pretty happy with the level of business that they’re doing lately. Sure, we all complain about the lack of available merchandise, but that will never change. The fact is, most of the active dealers that I know have noticed an uptick in their businesses this year. I say “active dealers” because there are plenty of dealers who don’t rely on this business for their actual income and are not aggressively beating the bushes every day to pay the bills. I am certainly one of the the later. What outside force do we attribute the increase in business to? I’m not sure. Perhaps people are feeling better about their portfolios, or real estate is moving again. Maybe we’re all tired of sitting on the sidelines.
Our office has seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls or emails from designers who need to fill orders. We can’t seem to keep up with requests for specific objects. I don’t attend too many auctions, particularly not the smaller venues. I get my auction reports from my friend and Colleague Phil Zexter, who is about the most active, plugged-in picker/dealer I know. He tells me that the prices on entry level pieces at auction, although still way down, have taken a jump. I believe we have hit the bottom of the market. There are opportunities to be had, so don’t wait too long.
I'm on an airplane returning from my annual pilgrimage to The Philadelphia Antiques Show. As always, the dealers showcased a nice selection of early American decorative arts. Among my favorite pieces were a great William & Mary dressing table, circa 1730 from Rhode Island and a fantastic painted wall cupboard with a facade in the form of a Federal house, complete with elaborate doorway. Arthur Liverant had the dressing table and Courcier Wilkins was offering the wall cupboard. The preview party was packed with people, which is always a good sign. I always enjoy this show because there is so much Americana to see.
Matt and I attended a luncheon and lecture by designer Campion Platt at The Boston Design Center. His power-point lecture was terrific. Taking a photographic tour of some of the high end homes and apartments his firm has decorated was worth the trip. Most of his work has a contemporary flavor, but some of the homes are traditional, or have some antique pieces sprinkled in. If only I can convince him to use more early American antiques in his plans, the world will be a better place. More and more, we’ve been working with designers and individuals who are using a few fine antiques as signature pieces in contemporary homes.