Gary Sullivan's Antique Clocks and Furniture Blog


Antique Clocks and Furniture

New York Supreme Court drops a bombshell on New York auction houses!
Specify Alternate Text

I just read this stunning article from Maine Antique Digest. The New York auction houses must reveal the name of their consignors to auction buyers! This is a shocking development. One that the big auction houses will certainly fight. Apparently the language requiring that the consignor’s name be provided to the buyer has been in the legal language right along, but the auction houses were not complying. They certainly don’t want to loose the element of secrecy that they have been enjoying. The consignors and auction houses alike have good reasons to keep that information private. Here is the article as it appeared in Maine Antique Digest.

New York Auction Houses Must Reveal Consignor's Name to Buyer, by David Hewett

The joy of discovery
Specify Alternate Text

Discovering and exploring the virtues of a newly acquired antique is the great joy of this industry. Examining the aesthetics of a piece and comparing it against the ideal of the form is an important and subjective aspect of an evaluation. In contrast, investigating the history of a piece to establish a firm provenance contributes in a more concrete manner and lends a more tangible value. Unraveling this history defines a piece beyond its dimensional form, but as a specific portion of history. This is always a gratifying effort, yet once in a great while a discovery is made that elevates a piece to historical significance.

I had the great pleasure of linking a tall clock to its original owner who was a major figure in the early anti-slavery movement. The clock was made by the well-known Quaker clockmaker John Bailey Jr. who had gained notoriety in New Bedford for his strong anti-slavery views. Bailey produced the clock for a fellow abolitionist John Anderson Collins of New Bedford. The clock is a monumental example in a rich Classical style and the oversized dial is marked “Warranted for John Collins”.

During the second quarter of the 19th Century, Collins was a primary and radical member of the anti-slavery movement who figures prominently into the inception of the cause. As the general agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, he worked with the likes of William Lloyd Garrison, organizing lectures, editing the monthly periodical and gathering support. He and Garrison attended a convention in Nantucket, at which the recently free Frederick Douglas lectured for the first time about his life as a slave. Impressed by his skill and convictions, Collins urged Douglas to become a full-time lecturer for the organization. Douglass accepted and soon became on of the most prominent orators and leaders of the Abolitionist Movement. This alone can be considered the most meaningful contribution Collins provided to this momentous cause.

A true radical, Collins shifted his focus from abolition to more sweeping reforms. He viewed slavery as a symptom of the larger malady of a Capitalist society. He followed these convictions and in 1843 established the Society for Universal Inquiry and Reform for which he purchased a large farm in Skaneateles, New York. This upstate location became the site of his utopian social experiment. The society was founded on an egalitarian communist principle. Although it was an economically viable community, the experiment would eventually succumb to internal struggles. Collins is undoubtedly one of the amazing characters that have contributed to the greatness of our Nation.

What a story. The history of these pieces can be so captivating. Remember this is a blog about discovering provenance. It leaves me breathless to be in the presence of such significance. My advice is to carefully document any histories that are tied to your possessions. Also bring them to the attention of your heirs. With a provenance an antique has more than just three dimensions.

The challenges of selling antiques online
Specify Alternate Text

Doing business on the web brings a whole new set of issues that we would prefer not to have to deal with in the antiques and fine art business.   We had a problem a few years ago when a predatory internet company created a mirror of our web site and was making money by redirecting our visitors to other sites where they could buy $12.00 clocks and junk furniture. It took an attorney to fix that problem.

We have at various times, discovered images of our merchandise in use on other sites, without our permission. I certainly don’t mind our images being used for scholarly purposes, as long as we are credited. It is well known that images are frequently stolen off of Ebay and used by scammers pretending to be offering those items for sale.

Now another group has hijacked several images from our inventory and as of today, are “offering” those items for sale on 3 different bogus websites. I will include the web addresses of the offending sites here in the hopes that anyone considering making a purchase from one of them will search the internet for background information and discover the scam. is one site. is another and the third is Beware of these web sites!

We have prided ourselves in offering the best possible, professional images on our web site. Unfortunately, we will be looking at water marking all of the images, which is not only a distraction, but a it creates more work. We are all constantly annoyed by email spam and occasionally you hear of a friend having their account hacked. This behavior is too easily perpetrated and it flies under the radar of our law enforcement. I think the world needs some internet police.

New Hampshire Antiques week well attended
Specify Alternate Text

I just spent two days attending the Antiques Week festivities in New Hampshire. I’m happy to report that I bought well at the three shows that I attended. The New Hampshire Antique Dealer’s Show is always a worthwhile venue. I thought I was arriving plenty early when I got in line at 8:50 yesterday morning for a 10:00 opening. I was wrong! There were already 214 people in line ahead of me. I prepaid my entrance fee and was given sticker number 215. I chatted across the tape with Derin Bray who was rewarded with number 64 for arriving at 7:30 AM. I have to imagine that the very first people in line arrived in the middle of the night! I like antiques, but I like my sleep better. By 10:00, the lobby was full and the line went out the door and up the block (see photo of the crowd in the lobby).

Peter Sawyer had advertised that he was bringing a terrific Boston block front chest, so I went directly to his booth. I was the first to see it and after a few minutes of examination, I made the purchase. I haven’t seen such a clean Boston block front in a long time. The brass is original and it has a great old surface. Peter sold it over 20 years ago and just reacquired it in time for the show. I’ll probably put it away and bring it to New York in January. By mentioning it here, I don’t think I’m giving away any trade secrets to the 3 or 4 people who read my antiques blog.

The other two shows were good as well. Frank Gaglio’s Mid Week Antiques Show has always been a dependable source for me and this year was no different. I was very impressed with Karen Disaia’s new show, “Antiques in Manchester: The Collector’s Fair”. It was was a terrific show, with an impressive roster of dealers. I bought objects from three of them, including an unsigned lyre clock and a nice Queen Anne Boston wing chair.

Bonnie & Clyde pocket watch offered at auction
Specify Alternate Text

On a quiet May morning in 1934, the most wanted bank-robbing gangster Clyde Barrow and his equally notorious accomplice Bonnie Parker fatally drove their car into an FBI ambush. The posse of lawmen fired over 130 bullets at the cornered couple, and when the smoke cleared, Bonnie and Clyde were dead.

Barrow was carrying his Elgin pocket watch when he met his violent end. That watch along with several other effects from the couple is being auctioned September 30 in New Hampshire and may bring between $50,000 and $100,000. The watch is an Elgin 17-jewel, ¾-plate, 16-size, open-face, 10K, gold-filled pocket watch, in its original Wadsworth screw-back and bezel case. It has stem winding and setting, with a railroad-style double-sunk dial, bold Arabic numerals, and bold blued-steel hands.

In the 1930s the criminal deeds of Bonnie and Clyde were celebrated in word and song. Their crime spree between 1931 and 1934 resulted in the robbery of over a dozen banks and numerous rural stores and gas stations in several states in the Midwest and the South. Thirteen killings have been blamed on the gang.

Watch Description: Elgin National Watch Company, 17 jewel ¾ plate, 16 size open-face 10K gold-filled pocket watch, in original Wadsworth screwed-back and bezel case, movement serial #28683536, case serial #6476773, stem winding and setting, with railroad style impressed double-sunk dial, bold Arabic numerals and bold blued-steel hands. The watch is accompanied by an affidavit from Clyde Barrow’s sister attesting to the watch having been worn by her brother at the time of his death, and returned to her father with Barrow’s personal effects. The watch was carried by the father in his son’s honor until the time of the father’s death, when it became property of the sister. The watch was produced by Elgin circa 1925.

Condition Report: In good running order, the movement condition fine overall, the dial with various hairline fractures that have darkened with age. Such fractures can be the result of natural stresses in the porcelain that finally resolve themselves into cracks, from impact or compression stress on the dial during its lifetime, or a combination of both factors. The watch currently has no crystal, but some watchmakers will have available stocks of old beveled glass crystals with mild curvature that the watch would have had originally. The hands are in fine blue with some light oxide and rubbing. The case has a few light soft dents to the case-back in particular, not an uncommon feature to watches that have been used over the years, but suggesting occasional rough handling or environment. The inside case-back has a few tiny scratched numerals or codes that are watchmakers’ repair marks for servicing, any of which could have been undertaken before or after Barrow’s death. The crown, bow and pendant are rather worn from winding and setting, but the case body is still quite fresh and without brassing, indicating some care in handling. Gold filled cases, unlike plated cases, are constructed from gold sheet fused to brass sheet and then extruded, resulting in usually one tenth of the weight of the case being solid 10 karat gold. Detail pictures were shot outside in natural daylight, and show some tree and sky reflection. The coloring of all plates, components and case are normal.  This story is courtesy of the NAWCC

Cardboard box found in attic could be worth millions!
Specify Alternate Text

I have never been much of a a baseball card aficionado, but as a dealer and collector, this is the type of story that keeps us hunting for treasure. You never know where that pot of gold is hiding. Thank you to Derin Bray for posting it on face book for me to discover.  Here is the story as ESPN reported:

DEFIANCE, Ohio -- Karl Kissner picked up a soot-covered cardboard box that had been under a wooden dollhouse in his grandfather's attic. Taking a look inside, he saw hundreds of baseball cards bundled with twine. They were smaller than the ones he was used to seeing.

But some of the names were familiar: Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Honus Wagner.

Then he put the box on a dresser and went back to digging through the attic.

It wasn't until two weeks later that he learned that his family had come across what experts say is one of the biggest, most exciting finds in the history of sports card collecting, a discovery worth perhaps millions.

The cards are from an extremely rare series issued around 1910. Up to now, the few known to exist were in so-so condition at best, with faded images and worn edges. But the ones from the attic in the town of Defiance are nearly pristine, untouched for more than a century. The colors are vibrant, the borders crisp and white.

"It's like finding the Mona Lisa in the attic," Kissner said.

Sports card experts who authenticated the find say they may never again see something this impressive.

"Every future find will ultimately be compared to this," said Joe Orlando, president of Professional Sports Authenticator.

The best of the bunch -- 37 cards -- are expected to bring a total of $500,000 when they are sold at auction in August during the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore. There are about 700 cards in all that could be worth up to $3 million, experts say. They include such legends as Christy Mathewson and Connie Mack.

Kissner and his family say the cards belonged to their grandfather, Carl Hench, who died in the 1940s. Hench ran a meat market in Defiance, and the family suspects he got them as a promotional item from a candy company that distributed them with caramels. They think he gave some away and kept others.

"We guess he stuck them in the attic and forgot about them," Kissner said. "They remained there frozen in time."

After Hench and his wife died, two of his daughters lived in the house. Jean Hench kept the house until she died last October, leaving everything inside to her 20 nieces and nephews. Kissner, 51, is the youngest and was put in charge of the estate. His aunt was a pack rat, and the house was filled with three generations of stuff.

They found calendars from the meat market, turn-of-the-century dresses, a steamer trunk from Germany and a dresser with Grandma's clothes neatly folded in the drawers.

Months went by before they even got to the attic. On Feb. 29, Kissner's cousin Karla Hench pulled out the dirty green box with metal clips at the corners and lifted the lid.

Not knowing whether the cards were valuable, the two cousins put the box aside. But Kissner decided to do a little research. The cards were at his office in the restaurant he owns when he realized they might have something. He immediately took them across the street and put them in a bank vault.

Still not knowing whether the cards were real, they sent eight to expert Peter Calderon at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, which recently sold the baseball that rolled through the legs of Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series for $418,000.

Calderon said his first words were "Oh, my God."

"I was in complete awe," he said. "You just don't see them this nice."

The cards are from what is known as the E98 series. It is not clear who manufactured them or how many were produced, but the series consists of 30 players, half of them Hall of Famers.

The experts at Heritage Auctions checked out the family's background, the age of the home and the history of the meat market. They looked at the cards and how they were printed.

"Everything lines up," said Chris Ivy, the company's director of sports auctions.

They then sent all the cards to Professional Sports Authenticator, which had previously authenticated fewer than 700 E98s. The Ohio cards were the finest examples from the E98 series the company had ever seen.

The company grades cards on a 1-to-10 scale based of their condition. Up to now, the highest grade it had ever given a Ty Cobb card from the E98 series was a 7. Sixteen Cobbs found in the Ohio attic were graded a 9 -- almost perfect. A Honus Wagner was judged a 10, a first for the series.

Retired sports card auctioneer Barry Sloate of New York City said: "This is probably the most interesting find I've heard of."

The highest price ever paid for a baseball card is $2.8 million, handed over in 2007 for a 1909 Honus Wagner that was produced by the American Tobacco Co. and included in packs of cigarettes. Another similar Wagner card brought $1.2 million in April. (Wagner's tobacco cards were pulled from circulation, either because the ballplayer didn't want to encourage smoking among children or because he wanted more money.)

Heritage Auctions plans to sell most of the Ohio cards over the next two of three years through auctions and private sales so that it doesn't flood the market. In all, they could bring $2 million or $3 million, Ivy said.

The Hench family is evenly dividing the cards and the money among the 20 cousins named in their aunt's will. All but a few have decided to sell their share.

"These cards need to be with those people who appreciate and enjoy them," Kissner said.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

Gary's day at Brimfield
Specify Alternate Text

I spent the day wandering the labyrinth of dusty dirt rows cutting through the grass fields of Brimfield, MA. Row after row, field after field of junk! Well, not all junk. Maybe 80% junk. The other 20% makes it worth the trip though. Actually, the entire Brimfield experience, including the junk, makes it worth the trip. Three one week events each year bring thousands of dealers, collectors and curiosity seekers to the tiny town of Brimfield.

If you haven’t experienced it as yet, Brimfield should be on your bucket list. If you attend the flea markets there enough times you’ll grow to hate it just like the rest of us. Spend several days in a row there and you will be afflicted with something that we dealers call “Brimfield hangover”. It settles in on your way home and lasts for a day or two. It is a state of soreness, lethargy and exhaustion, generally exacerbated by sunburn. There is no remedy, although a large bag of kettle corn purchased on your way out of town has been known to help.

As usual, I only bought a few trinkets, scraps of junk that will someday be incorporated into a steampunk sculpture (if you are unfamiliar with “steampunk art”, please see previous posts on the subject). It has been a few years since I discovered anything good at Brimfield, but we keep looking. It’s also a good idea for me to check in with some of my dealer contacts, just so they don’t forget me. I try to got out there at least one day every season.

For years I set up a booth and sold my own Junk at Brimfield. I no longer do the number of estate liquidations which formerly netted me large quantities of Brimfield-type material, so doing the show now no longer makes sense. The best days I ever had there were when it rained. I always brought a tent and a truck large enough to display my case pieces. Having shelter from the rain always meant the buyers would loiter in my booth and purchase my offerings.

The next Brimfield show dates are September 4th to 9th, 2012.

A new season for Antiques Roadshow begins
Specify Alternate Text

I have recently returned from Antiques Roadshow in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where I worked at the clocks table with Sean Delaney.

As always, Saturday was a long day for all the appraisers and crew. Both Sean and I were happy to have been filmed with interesting clocks. He appraised an excellent wooden works antique tall case clock with the best folk art painted wooden dial either of us have ever seen. I appraised a super example of a Victorian figural mantle clock.

I worked at the furniture table when Roadshow kicked off the season in Boston a month ago. It was nice to host some of the other appraisers in my home city. I was filmed with a pretty interesting 18th century Goddard-Townsend school piece of furniture from Newport, Rhode Island.

The Queen Anne form appeared to be a dressing table (lowboy) with a carved shell, but turned out to be the base section from what would have been an important Newport high chest (highboy) with a carved shell. If it survives the cutting room, I hope you will have an opportunity to see the appraisal on the show next year.

New record auction price
Specify Alternate Text

The world has a brand new record for the highest price ever paid for a work of art: $250 million! I wish that the new record was for an Early American tall case clock or a piece of Boston Queen Anne furniture. Alas, it was not. The record price was paid for a painting, which is not surprising given the tremendous numbers that fly around in the high end art market. I hope that some day the world will realize that the under appreciated masterpieces of American furniture are every bit as beautiful as two dimensional art. For now, Early American furniture collectors have opportunities to buy the highest form of their “art” at much more reasonable prices than do the painting collectors. Here is the story from Antiques And Fine Art News:

Royalties for artists: my viewpoint
Specify Alternate Text

I recently came across this article by Daniel Grant on AFA News. It examines the controversial California resale royalties law. According to the law, contemporary art collectors, auctioneers, galleries and dealers are required to pay a 5% royalty to original artists upon resale of that artist’s work. Amazingly, they are required to pay royalties to the artist’s heirs if that artist has died within the last 70 years.

Several recent law suits have brought attention to the California law which is similar to one currently in effect in England and other parts of Europe. Even many contemporary artists feel that this law is unfair. Although it does not affect me personally, I feel very strongly that it is not fair. And now, two knuckle-head politicians have tried to introduce it on a federal level (read the article). Fortunately, It was not passed.

Lets think about this (California obviously didn’t). Although I am a rabid supporter of the arts and agree with helping struggling artists wherever possible, this tariff does not help them. In Europe, only six percent of this bogus “fine” goes to living artists. The rest goes to their heirs and the entity that collects the fines. Those artists who benefit from the law are generally the ones who are doing okay, because their art commands a high price in the market place. The starving artist is still starving. Legislation can’t help him, only patrons of the arts can.

Buyers who support the arts are doing just that. Supporting the arts. So we should penalize them if they profit on their investment? What about the patrons who feel so strongly about helping a particular artist that they continue to buy that artist’s works even when they don’t really need any more. It happens all the time. Lets fine them as well!

Buying and selling contemporary art has inherent risks. When you buy art, you risk that the market will go down. When you sell, you risk that the market will go up. If you are not willing to take the risk, don’t make the transaction. Artist included. How about if I buy a contemporary artwork from a living artist for $10,000 and when I sell it 5 years from now, it only brings $2,000? Will that artist share in my loss? Should I send him an invoice for a percentage of my losses? What about the piece that my Father bought 50 years ago from an artist who is no longer living? If we sell it a for less than Dad paid, should I send a bill to the children of the artist? If I sold it for more, I would have to pay them! Are you kidding me California? Lets not take responsibility for our choices, but rather, lets insist on getting something that we have not earned. Perfect. What right does the Grandchild of an artist who has been dead for nearly 70 years have to take a piece of the profit from a risk that I take?

I think we should take it a step further. I’ve lived in the same house for 23 years. It is worth quite a bit more today than what I paid for it. Much of the home’s value is the artistry and fine workmanship of the builder. I think when I sell, I’ll pop a check in the mail to the Grandson of the builder. He’ll like that.

Read the article and let me know what you think by leaving me a comment. Do you feel as strongly as I do?

Here it is: