Gary Sullivan's Antique Clocks and Furniture Blog


Antique Clocks and Furniture

The joy of discovery
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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
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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
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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.

Gary's day at Brimfield
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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
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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
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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:

Winterthur: Furniture Forum 2012
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I have just returned from the Winterthur 2012 Furniture Forum, where I lectured on the subject of northern clockmakers trading with the southern market during the 1st quarter of the 19th century. It was entitled “Clocks For Corn: Northern Clockmakers Trading With The South”. The Forum was called “Furniture In The South: Makers & Consumers”. It included two days of lectures and a fascinating field trip to Homewood Museum At Johns Hopkins University and Hampton National Historic Site. Both were well worth the trip. Add a tour of Winterthur’s Southern Furniture Exhibit on Saturday and it became a four day event. The forum was very well attended and the speakers were excellent. We recorded my lecture which you can now watch on my website. Click Here. Most of the attendees were from the South, so I was one of the few Yankees on hand. We had a lot of fun teasing each other about our accents. The crowd was largely made up of museum professionals and collectors, but there ware also a number of auctioneers, private dealers and restorers.

Folk Art Museum May Partner With Seaport Museum
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The American Folk Art Museum and the Seaport Museum, two New York museums that weathered difficult economic conditions this year, may partner for a series of exhibitions at the Seaport Museum in 2012.

DNA info reports that the news broke at a city council hearing last week, where interim Seaport head Susan Henshaw Jones announced the museums’ intentions:
“‘We are very much hoping that the Museum of American Folk Art will do exhibitions in four galleries [at the Seaport Museum] starting in June,’ Jones said at a City Council hearing last Friday.”

The Folk Art museum moved out of its building on 53rd Street next to the Museum of Modern Art this July, after selling the building to MoMA. The Seaport Museum suffered similar economic difficulties, though in September, it was announced that it would receive a $2 million Manhattan Development Corp. grant for the post-9/11 recovery of nonprofits.

By Dan Duray- [Read his article]

Accumulating fresh merchandise for “Antiques Week” in January
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We have just acquired a few special items that will appear at the opening night preview party for the 2012 Metro NYC Show in January. If you are planning your visit to New York for the festivities, you’ll notice one major change in the Antiques Week schedule. There will be no 2012 TAAS Show, at least not by that name. In 2012, TAAS, also known as “The American Antiques Show”, also known as “The Folk Art Show” will live on in slightly different form. The venue has been taken over by The Art Fair Company and now goes by the name of The Metro NYC Show. It will be held at the same Metropolitan Pavilion location on on the same dates, as the TAAS Shows were.

As in previous years, a preview party will take place on Wednesday evening, January 18th, with the show going from Thursday through Sunday, January 22nd. The core group of antiques dealers who previously did the TAAS Shows will return for this new show. A nice addition will be some exhibitors handling slightly more modern art, such as photography. We are excited to be a part of this event, as The Art Fair Company puts on a very upscale fair. They are well known for their enormously popular “SOFA” art Shows in Santa Fe, New York and San Francisco.

As in years past, the preview party will be to benefit The American Folk Art Museum. One new twist at this year’s gala event will be the fact that the first hour of the preview party will be by invitation only. No tickets will be sold for that time slot. Only invited guests and the best clients of the exhibitors will attend that first hour. Tickets for the remainder of the evening will be available for $75. If you haven’t made your way onto our preferred client list, you are running out of time!
In the months leading up to the show, we accumulate fresh merchandise and hold it for the show. Our clients know that some of the best pieces that we handle appear for the first time at the show. This year will be no different.

We are also planning a “booth talk” at the show (exact time and date to be determined), where I will disassemble some vintage grandfather clocks and discuss their inner workings and the remarkable art of creating them. I’ll also discuss what to look for when considering the purchase of a vintage clock. Hope to see you in New York.

Unearthing artifacts from a revolting repository
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As a 12 year old interested in all things historic, I devoted a great deal of time to searching for the objects of my passion, antique bottles. I would scour antiques and junk shops and occasionally buy the interesting ones that I could afford. Those being under about two dollars. Being on a limited budget as I was, I preferred the free ones. Free because I would dig them at dump sites. Not the nasty land-fill kind of dump sites we have today, but abandoned 19th and early 20th century trash piles. They were a lot easier to find in the late 1960s than they are today, but they’re still out there.

In times past, people often disposed of their trash on their own land. The rear corner of an old property, where two stone walls converge was an out of the way location that often became a dump site. Spending portions of my summers in Maine, I found several old dump sites by following stone walls through the woods in rural areas. The tell-tale shards of broken glass and rusting iron usually tip off the location. A metal detector can aid in the search and I logged a lot of hours on mine.

Although most of whatever would have been placed in a trash pile 100 years ago has now returned to the soil, the glass bottles have not, and those that survive unbroken can be fascinating. Just a few years ago, while hiking in the woods with my kids near my home, I spotted a corner where two stone walls come together behind a Victorian era estate. Curiosity getting the better of me, I starting kicking around in the dirt and quickly unearthed a couple of circa 1900 bottles. We left them there, but the kids were pretty impressed!

Before curb-service provided by diesel powered, hydraulic, trash compacting mega-trucks, popular repositories for trash were often abandoned wells and privies. Generally located fairly close to the house, the artifacts locked up in these abandoned columns of debris, particularly the bottles, can be pretty interesting. Emotionally, one does have to get past the fact that one is digging in what was once the outhouse, but a century later, it’s all just dirt and really isn’t so bad.

“Dug” bottles tend to have a different look than those that have not been exposed to the elements for generations. Their surfaces are often permanently etched from the exposure and require special techniques to clean them up. Due to their properties, some bottles that were once clear in color take on a highly desirable amethyst color after years of exposure to the sun.

The reason for all this reminiscing is that I just found this article about some interesting finds that came out of an abandoned privy in Pennsylvania. Before I get to that, I am burying a message in this post for my friend Mark. He claims to read every one of my blog posts and even tells me that he read the entire blog on hoarders, which is no small accomplishment. Lets see if I hear from him! Here is the story from Antique Trader