Gary Sullivan's Antique Clocks and Furniture Blog


Antique Clocks and Furniture

Research tidbit, pineapples for rent?
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Matt Buckley here this time.  I have always held that one of the prerequisites to being an antique enthusiast, is an appreciation for the tidbits of information that accumulate along the way.  This minutia is prized in an equal measure to the objects.  They become exquisite little nuggets of information that  help to color the image of our history and enrich our understanding of our culture.  As so often is the case, the origins of our customs can be rooted in absurd nuanced behavior from our past.  These are the best tidbits of all.
I encountered just such a factoid recently, while researching a Salem, McIntire school work table.  The tops of the legs have wonderful carved pineapples.  They are a very rare motif in Salem furniture.  I wanted to write a few words on the meaning of the Pineapple as a cultural symbol during the 18th and 19th Century.  I had long understood it to be a symbol of the feast, which had come to express the sense of welcome, good cheer and abundance.  After a quick trip to Google, I had my delightful tidbit of absurd human behavior becoming culture.  I have included the description below, enjoy.

The pineapple has served as both a food and a symbol throughout the human history of the Americas.  Originally unique to the Western Hemisphere, the fruit was a culinary favorite of the fierce Carib Indians who lived on islands in the sea that still bears their name.  In such a gastronomic milieu, reports and later samples of the New World's pineapple--whose ripe yellow pulp literally exploded natural sweetness when chewed--made the fruit an item of celebrity and curiosity for royal gourmet and horticulturist alike.  Despite dogged efforts by European gardeners, it was nearly two centuries before they were able to perfect a hothouse method for growing a pineapple plant.  Thus, into the 1600s, the pineapple remained so uncommon and coveted a commodity that King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait in an act then symbolic of royal privilege -- receiving a pineapple as a gift.

Across the ocean, the pineapple took on other symbolic meanings in England's American colonies.  The colonies were then a land of small, primitive towns and settlements where homes served as the hubs of most community activity.  Visiting was the primary means of entertainment, cultural intercourse and news dissemination.  The concept of hospitality--the warmth, charm and style with which guests were taken into the home--was a central element of the society's daily emotional life.

Creative food display--the main entertainment during a formal home visit--was a means by which a woman declared both her personality and her family's status.  Within the bounds of their family's means, hostesses sought to outdo each other in the creation of memorable, fantasy-like dining room scenes.  At such feasts, tabletops resembled small mountain ranges of tiered, pyramided and pedestaled foodstuffs often drizzled and webbed in sugar, studded with china figurines, festooned with flowers and interwoven with garlands of pine and laurel.  Dinners were extravaganzas of visual delights, novel tastes, new discoveries and congenial conversation that went on for hours.

While fruits in general--fresh, dried, candied and jellied--were the major attractions of the community's appetite and dining practices, the pineapple was the true celebrity.  Its rarity, expense, reputation and striking visual attractiveness made it the ultimate exotic fruit.  It was the pineapple that came to literally crown the most important feasts: often held aloft on special pedestals as the pinnacle of the table's central food mound.

Ships brought in preserved pineapples from Caribbean islands as expensive sweetmeats--pineapple chunks candied, glazed and packed in sugar.  The actual whole fruit was even more costly and difficult to obtain.  Wooden ship travel in the tropics was hot, humid and slow, often rotting pineapple cargoes before they could be landed.  Only the speediest ships and most fortuitous weather conditions could deliver ripe, wholesome pineapples to the confectionery shops of cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, Annapolis and Williamsburg.

A hostesses's ability to have a pineapple for an important dining event said as much about her rank as it did about her resourcefulness, given that the street trade in available fresh pineapples could be as brisk as it was prickly.  So sought after were the fruits that colonial confectioners sometimes rented them to households by the day.  Later, the same fruit was sold to other, more affluent clients who actually ate it.  As you might imagine, hostesses would have gone to great lengths to conceal the fact that the pineapple that was the visual apogee of their table display and a central topic of their guests' conversation was only rented.

In larger, well-to-do homes, the dining room doors were kept closed to heighten visitors' suspense about the table being readied on the other side.  At the appointed moment, and with the maximum amount of pomp and drama, the doors were flung open to reveal the evening's main event.  Visitors confronted with pineapple-topped food displays felt particularly honored by a hostess who obviously spared no expense to ensure her guests' dining pleasure.

In this manner, the fruit which was the visual keystone of the feast naturally came to symbolize the high spirits of the social events themselves; the image of the pineapple coming to express the sense of welcome, good cheer, human warmth and family affection inherent to such gracious home gatherings.

Whimsical pineapple shapes and interpretations became a ubiquitous form for "fun" food creations and general table decorations throughout the 1700 and 1800s.  There were pineapple-shaped cakes, pineapple-shaped gelatine molds, candies pressed out like small pineapples, pineapples molded of gum and sugar, pineapples made of creamed ice, cookies cut like pineapples and pineapple shapes created by arrangements of other fruits.  There were also ceramic bowls formed like pineapples, fruit and sweet trays incorporating pineapple designs, and pineapple pitchers, cups and even candelabras.

During the last century, the art of food display centered around the pineapple has faded to a quaint craft now largely associated with the making of certain kinds of Christmas decorations. These holiday fabrications are one of the few vestiges of an era when all life literally revolved around the dining room table; a less complicated era that left us the enduring icon of the colonial pineapple, a truly American fruit symbolizing our founding society's abiding commitment to hospitality as well as its fondest memories of families, friends and good times.

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This is what keeps us going - the thrill of the hunt!  As dealers we are always dreaming of making that big discovery, the sleeper that will make a difference. It still happens, as evidenced by the story below. I have made a few through the years, but I’m still waiting for the “big one”.
We did make a nice discovery in an auction box lot last year, maybe not as spectacular as the one in the story, but it was pretty special for us.  While previewing a sale at a small auction house, Matt spotted an extremely important piece of Chinese export porcelain in a box lot.  The lot had been part of the residue from an excellent Boston area estate, the majority of which had gone to one of the big name auction houses. Here was this obscure five-figure piece, mixed in with common, low value porcelain. We knew we on the trail of a good one, now we just needed to bring it in.  Matt sat quietly in the audience at the sale, hoping nobody else had noticed this gem. When it came time to bid he was able to buy the box lot for under $300. The thrill was so intense that later, when he was wrapping up the lot to head home, his hands were still shaking.  We were lucky enough to ascertain the provenance, which was important to the discovery. It doesn’t happen often at auctions these days, they are so well covered, but with some diligence and knowledge mixed with a good dose of luck it is still possible and incredibly exciting. Keep an eye on those box lots!

Here is the related story from Antique and the Arts Online:

Box Lot Painting Discovery Brings $164,500 At Clarke’s

It was a "dream come true" for a local picker at Clarke Auctioneers this past Sunday, October 23, as a rare oil painting on panel by Maurice Prendergast became the star lot of the auction. The picker had dropped off the unassuming and dirty painting among the contents of a box lot at the auction house, according to gallery owner and auctioneer Ronan Clarke.

Nelia Moore, art specialist and auctioneer at Clarke's, "spied a beautifully executed but very dirty painting on panel of a woman in a veil. After dusting it off and studying the painting she spotted the Prendergast signature on the lower right of the panel," he said. The Impressionistic- style painting was executed while the artist was in Paris.

Estimated at $40/60,000, the painting opened for bidding at $20,000 and advanced rapidly between a dealer in the front row and a private buyer in the rear of the gallery. The action slowed as the painting hit $100,000, with the dealer taking his time between advances, while the private buyer continued to bid quickly, until it finally went her way, climbing to $164,500, including premium.

Antiques and the Arts Editorial Content

A blog about Toasters, of all things.
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What ever happened to the good old days when you could buy a toaster and use it for say, 25 years? I just found this web site devoted to wonderful old toasters. Vintage toasters are very popular and there are lots of people who collect them. Some of them are such great retro forms! We had The rounded corner Toastmaster in the kitchen for my entire childhood. It was used every day and is probably still working somewhere. I think we have now gone through 3 toasters in the last 5 years, with only half the number of family members that were using the 1950s Toastmaster of my childhood. My personal favorite is the Toast-O-Lator. It automatically advances the toast through the machine, from one end to the other, while you watch it toasting through a little window in the center. How cool is that? Take a look.

Art as collateral
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It seems that art and antiques are better collateral than other assets these days. Read about how some high flyers are pledging valuable objects from their fine art collections as collateral to do real estate deals. I picked this story up on Artfix Dailey.

Here is the article from Bloomberg:

Michael Steinhardt, the former hedge-fund manager who has spent at least $200 million on fine art, is using part of the collection to secure low-cost funding for his latest real estate venture. Steinhardt and his wife, Judy, pledged 20 paintings and drawings, including five by Pablo Picasso and one by Jackson Pollock, as collateral for a loan from JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, according to New York state records. David Steinhardt, Michael’s son, said in an interview that the loan from JPMorgan’s private bank is related to an investment in the former American Stock Exchange building, which Steinhardt bought earlier this year.

“We had the opportunity to get some very cheap borrowing,” said David, who says he goes by the official title of “helper” at his father’s firm, New York-based Steinhardt Management Co. Steinhardt, 70, joins hedge-fund managers including Steven A. Cohen and Nelson Peltz who have been using fine art to secure loans. With top works fetching record prices at auctions and borrowing costs near all-time lows, more and more ultra rich are turning to private banks to borrow against their collections, according to Suzanne Gyorgy, director for the art advisory and finance group at Citi Private Bank, a unit of Citigroup Inc.

“We have seen interest in this by banks who have never done it before,” said Howard Spiegler, the co-chairman of the art law group at New York-based Herrick, Feinstein LLP. “Otherwise they are going to lose relationships because a lot of high-net-worth individuals want this kind of loan.”

Stock Exchange Building

Steinhardt and Allan Fried, an independent real estate adviser to the former hedge-fund manager, disclosed in March that they had purchased the former Amex site and an adjacent building in Manhattan’s financial district for $65 million in cash. At about that time, they entered into the agreement with JPMorgan’s private bank to borrow money against some of the family’s artwork, at rates that were much lower than those for commercial real estate projects, David Steinhardt said. The younger Steinhardt declined to give an update on the plans for the project, which Fried described in a Wall Street Journal interview published in March as converting the main exchange building into a retail and hotel complex and tearing down the other to make way for a 60-story residential tower.

This type of mixed-use project would likely cost at least $250 million when the price tag for the properties is included, according to Ben Carlos Thypin, director of market analysis for Real Capital Analytics Inc. in New York. David Steinhardt declined to comment on the estimate.

Construction Loans

A real estate developer would ordinarily finance this type of development through a two- to three-year renovation loan that would carry a variable interest rate based on a benchmark such as the London Interbank Offered Rate, also known as Libor. Banks usually charge a significant premium to Libor for such loans because of the risk that the development project will go awry, leaving the lender with a half-completed building as collateral, Stephen Brodie, the head of Herrick’s banking practice and an expert in both art and construction finance, said in an interview.

Some private banks are providing art loans to top clients at 200 to 300 basis points above Libor, said Philip Hoffman, chief executive officer of the London-based Fine Art Fund and the former director of finance at Christie’s auction house. With one-year Libor averaging about 79 basis points in February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, it’s possible that Steinhardt was able to finance at least a portion of his real estate project at less than three percent. A percentage point equals 100 basis points.

‘Well-Heeled Clients’

“If Steinhardt was able to get this as a construction loan for the entire mixed-use project, that would be very cheap financing,” said Bart Steinfeld, an executive managing director in the capital markets group at Cassidy Turley, a St. Louis- based provider of commercial real estate services. “This is what private banks are willing to do for their well-heeled clients.”

Doug Morris, a spokesman for the private bank unit at New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), declined to comment. Other fund managers who have secured loans by art in recent years include billionaire Cohen, founder and chairman of SAC Capital Advisors LP in Stamford, Connecticut. Cohen, an avid collector who recently sold a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol for $26.9 million, pledged undisclosed “works of fine art” to Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Americas under an Oct. 30, 2009, borrower security agreement, according to New York state records.

Jonathan Gasthalter, a spokesman for Cohen, said that the hedge-fund manager declined to comment on the lending arrangement with Deutsche Bank.

Chinese Side Chairs

Peltz, the billionaire who co-manages Trian Fund Management LP, pledged 15 works by artists such as Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir to Bank of America NA, according to a financing statement filed in May 2009. Peltz also secured the lending arrangement with antiques, including a pair of Louis XV commodes, a set of four Italian white marble busts dating as far back as the 17th century, and four Chinese side chairs that were made around 1725, the document shows.

Anne Tarbell, a spokeswoman for New York-based Trian, didn’t respond to an e-mail and phone call seeking comment. “Going through the downturn in 2008, a lot of people realized that art weathered that storm very well and is a stable form of collateral,” said Gyorgy at Citi Private Bank. “When you look at our client base, its savvy business people that for the most part are using the liquidity from the art loan to invest back in their businesses.”

Modern Artists

Steinhardt opened his money-management firm in 1967 at the age of 26 with two friends, Howard Berkowitz and Jerrold Fine, and during the next 28 years, its hedge fund generated average annual returns of about 24 percent after fees. Steinhardt, who retired from the hedge-fund business in 1995 with a personal fortune estimated at $500 million by Forbes magazine, has been managing his own money and making investments, as well as collecting modern works on paper and antiquities.

In a 2007 interview, Steinhardt said that he and Judy had given $150 million to charities and spent about $200 million on antiquities and works by Picasso, Pollock, Paul Klee and other modern artists. The couple is included in ‘Great Collectors of Our Time,’ a book published in 2007 and written by James Stourton, the chairman of Sotheby’s (BID) U.K., who quotes Steinhardt saying “my wife pushed me into the second half of the 20th century with Pollock and (Jasper) Johns.”

David Steinhardt said that the family will maintain possession of the artwork pledged as collateral for the JPMorgan loan. He added that the artwork represented only a portion of the art collection.

‘There Are Gems’

According to a UCC financing statement filed by JPMorgan in July, the Steinhardts pledged three oil paintings that Picasso created between 1922 and 1936, along with two works on paper, including a charcoal entitled ‘Homme a la sucette’ that he drew in 1938. The collateral also includes four works by Klee, two by Johns, and single works by Honore Daumier, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, as well as a Pollock that, according to Beverly Schreiber Jacoby, the president of BSJ Fine Art in New York, once belonged to Si Newhouse Jr., the chairman of Advance Publications Inc.

“There are gems in this group,” said Jacoby, even if as drawings “they may not be the most valuable works by the artists.” Jacoby, an art valuation expert who reviewed the list of paintings and drawings pledged by the Steinhardts, estimated that they would be able to borrow $40 million to $50 million against the collateral.
Banks typically advance loans equaling as much as 50 percent of the appraised value of the artwork received as security, according to Brodie and Spiegler. From the bank’s point of view, these are personal loans based on the creditworthiness and cash flow of the borrower, with the art posted as collateral serving as a secondary layer of protection, the two attorneys said.

“If he got 3 percent on his borrowing costs, god bless him,” said Stephen Pearlman, senior managing director in the capital markets group at Cassidy Turley. “It just shows you the power of being a high-net-worth individual.”

Reporters on this story: Miles Weiss in Washington  and Katya Kazakina in New York
The editor responsible for this story: Christian Baumgaertel

Willard clockmakers and Southern connections
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RESEARCH NOTES   BY Paul J. Foley and Gary R. Sullivan

John Ware Willard documented a number of special order clocks made by Simon Willard and shipped to various parts of the country. In 1801, Simon made a clock for the United States Senate in Washington, DC and in 1826 he made a tower clock for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, ordered by his friend Thomas Jefferson. In the first and second decade of the nineteenth century both Aaron Willard and his son Aaron Jr. were also shipping their clocks south to be sold through agents in southern states, primarily Virginia and South Carolina.

The Boston, Massachusetts and Petersburg, Virginia partnership of Nash & Munroe (1802-1813) were importing and actively selling Willard clocks in Virginia. This partnership of merchants Paul Nash and William Munroe advertised Willard clocks for sale. In Petersburg they offered a variety of goods including house furniture “imported from Boston.” In June of 1805 they advertised “NASH & MUNROE, Have received from Boston… Two elegant eight-day Clocks, one handsome Time-Piece,…”. Again in October of 1806 they advertised “3 eight day clocks warranted by Aaron Willard….” In May of 1806 they were purchasing looking glasses from John Doggett in Roxbury undoubtedly to be sold in the south.

When the Petersburg, Virginia silversmith and watchmaking partnership of John Bennett and Ebenezer Thomas was dissolved in 1819 one of their listed creditors was clockmaker Aaron Willard Jr. who was owed $500. This significant debt would have been for Willard clocks purchased by them on credit, to be sold in Virginia.. Although dissolved, this business continued as Bennett & Thomas. In December of 1823 they advertised “8-DAY CLOCKS / We have received a few Willard eight day clocks of latest patterns, which are offered low for cash – they will be warranted to perform well.

Willard’s Clocks are well known to need no recommendation, other than the knowledge that they are manufactured by him.”

By this date these imported Willard clocks would probably have been patent timepieces (banjo clocks) or shelf clocks. Both signed and attributed “Roxbury” tall case clocks that were made by the Willards in Boston can be found signed and/or labeled by southern clockmakers like William McCabe and William Mitchell Jr. both of Richmond, Virginia and John McKee of Chester, South Carolina. One Willard tall clock signed by John McKee also has a label inside the case advertising “Common House Clocks, Table / Spring Clocks, and Time pieces of different constructions made by Aaron Willard / Boston.” A William McCabe “Directions” label pasted inside an attributed Aaron Willard tall clock is illustrated below.

Some of the known Willard tall clocks with southern connections are in later-style mahogany cases stamped by cabinetmaker Henry Willard, another son of Aaron.
These Willard clocks with southern connections are being researched to better understand this trade. If any reader has knowledge of a signed or attributed Willard clock with similar southern connections the authors would appreciate the details.

A virtual Museum of what?!
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Okay, it’s time for a tongue-in-cheek blog. If you lack a sense of humor, please stop reading here.

I came across a website today that gave me a chuckle. It is an air sickness bag virtual museum. That’s right, a virtual museum devoted to the “barf bag”. No joke, it’s legitimate. Take a look, but I hope you can stomach it! They have cataloged and illustrated over 2,000 of these bags from all over the world.
In the antiques and arts industry we have always said that people will collect anything, but who would have guessed?

The most interesting of these bags are the political lampoons. I didn’t realize that printing a motion sickness bag with your political opponent’s name on it had been adopted as means of maligning the opposition. Being from Massachusetts, I got a kick out of the anti Dukakis bag from the 1988 Presidential campaign: “The Duke makes us Puke”. There are many more. Some are artistically interesting enough to be incorporated into a poster that is available for purchase.  When I fly in the future I think I’ll start paying more attention to the artistic merits of the bags that they offer.  Have a look, click here

The Metropolitan Show NYC
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I am happy to share with my readers the news that we are signed up for the new Metropolitan Show in New York this January 2011. You are the first to know! The show replaces The American Antiques Show (TAAS) which has been held the last ten years at The metropolitan Pavilion in January. Just as previous shows have been for the benefit of The Folk Art Museum, the preview party for the new Metro Show will benefit the Museum as well.

The new promoter of the show is The Art Fair Company Inc. They are recognized for their very upscale art shows such as the highly regarded SOFA Shows in Chicago, New York and Santa Fe. Along with the fresh new face of the show, their goal is to preserve the core appeal of the TAAS Show, but to add some more contemporary art to the mix. I look forward to seeing some dealers in new categories such as outsider art and photography. I think this will be an excellent addition.
We want to encourage the collectors of folk art and American antiques who have historically attended the show to return in January, but we would like to see some younger faces as well. By adding some contemporary art to the show, I look forward to attracting more 30 and 40 somethings, who may just find that they like these old things that we call “antiques”.

I’ll have to stop calling this an “antiques show”. I certainly don’t want to frighten off any of my loyal collectors of antiques who would be disinclined to attend something called a “fair”. The fact is, younger collectors of art call these events “fairs”, and they would be disinclined to attend something called an “antiques show”. We all need to get together and enjoy the mix of fine art and antiques. So if you are one of my clients, who has never been to a “fair”, please be sure to visit us in January. No matter what they call the event, you can rest assured that you’ll always find some terrific objects in my booth! You’ll not be disappointed!

The Keno Brothers new show
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Leigh and Leslie, the keno Brothers of Antiques Roadshow fame have a new show on Fox. It is called “Buried Treasure”. The new show is similar to, but different than their old PBS show which was called Find!. As with the old show, they travel the country visiting people who have objects that may have significant value. What sets Buried Treasure apart from the old show is the personal component. Leigh told me that they are looking for situations where the value of the objects can potentially make a significant difference in the lives of the owners. The problem with this scenario is that it eliminates a great number of the possible guests and makes it much more difficult to find good houses to visit. I don’t know how they accomplish what they do. The twins are just a few months older than I am, but I wouldn’t dream of trying to fit what they do into a day. I’m tired just thinking about it. In addition to filming the show this summer, Leigh has his auction coming up later this month and Leslie has a sale at Sotheby’s. Good luck with the new show guys.

Fancy diamonds a hot commodity
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I just came across this story about two extraordinary, multimillion dollar yellow diamonds which are about to be sold. We keep hearing about the hot markets for certain art commodities, particularly those that are of interest to wealthy Asian buyers. They certainly seem like better investments than the stock market right now. Just ask my 401K! We have some pretty good commodities right here, in the form of rare and beautiful clocks and furniture. Hey Asian buyers, take a look, you might like what you see! Here is the article from ARTFIXdailey....

Willard Clock Museum news
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The Willard House and Clock Museum in North Grafton, MA. boasts the largest collection of Willard clocks in the world. The extraordinary clock collection, along with many rooms of period furniture and decorations are housed in the 1718 Willard Homestead, the 1766 Benjamin Willard clock shop and in two modern galleries. The Willards were the most influential family of clockmakers in early America. With over 90 Willard clocks dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries on display, this museum is a must see for clock enthusiasts. The work of Benjamin, Aaron, Simon and Ephraim (among others) can all be found here. Perhaps this is a shameless plug, as I’m a trustee of the museum, but I encourage folks who are visiting the area to stop by. It is just minutes off the Mass. Turnpike and a short trip from Skinner’s Marlboro location.

The Museum has some news, which is that we are welcoming Patrick Keenan, former Museum Assistant as our new Director and are confident that he will excel in his new role. We wish our capable former Director, Cynthia Dias-Reid good luck in her new pursuits in Connecticut. The website for the museum is