Gary Sullivan's Antique Clocks and Furniture Blog


Antique Clocks and Furniture

Brock Jobe’s latest research

I met with my colleague and friend Brock Jobe on Cape Cod today. Brock was one of the co-authors on our 2009 release “Harbor & Home”. He is traveling with his students who are enrolled in the Winterthur (Museum) Program in American Material Culture, a highly regarded University of Delaware program. My roll was to assist him in examining and discussing with the students, an exceptional private collection of early American antique furniture. I was thrilled to have had an opportunity to handle the great clocks in the collection. Brock is working on a new project, an in depth study of early furniture from Boston. The project is just getting underway and sounds like it will be quite extensive, with multiple institutions being involved. We could certainly use some scholarly research on Boston furniture. Brock is the Pied Piper of American decorative arts, so any research that he is involved in will certainly be well received. As the facts become clearer, I’ll share them.

Unusual southeastern Massachusetts Federal games table.
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The 2011 Antiques Roadshow season has come to an end. We visited Pittsburgh over the weekend and wrapped up the the season in style. Still another rhinoceros horn libation cup turned up for still another six figure appraisal price! And no, the owner was completely unaware of the recent record breaking appraisal by Lark Mason of a collection of similar cups (see July 29, 2011 blog).

It was a good day for me. I had fun appraising an entertaining, memory stimulating and thought provoking 1970s Tiki bar that could have some serious value to the right collector. Who knew that there were so many serious collectors of Tiki culture? I certainly didn't until I did some research. I don't quite understand it, but trust me, there are! (please do not contact me to buy, appraise or admire your Tiki furniture! It is not my area of interest)

I was surprised to see a circa 1810 Hepplewhite demi-lune card table (or games table) that seemed to be made right in my area of southeastern Massachusetts. It has lots of naive inlay that is reminiscent of some of the Federal furniture that we see around here. The table has a family history from Massachusetts, albeit a little further north. The heavy band of floral inlay around the perimeter of the playing surface is very unusual. I certainly didn't expect a quirky local table to turn up in Pittsburgh.

Noteworthy objects from Skinner sale
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The Skinner Americana sale took place over the weekend and two of the objects caught my eye. First was the Vermont four drawer federal chest. It's a relatively simple country form that was constructed of remarkable figured wood. Kudos to the photographer, who made the figured maple look absolutely electric on the front cover of the catalog. The early 19th century Rutland Vermont cabinetmaker must have saved his best tiger and bird's-eye maple and used it all on this one special piece. With the exception of the mahogany banding around the drawers, the exceptional woods were all native; Tiger maple, bird's-eye maple and flame birch. I'm a wood freak, so exceptional wood like this really impresses me. This stuff was not easy for the maker to get hold of. Anyway, it sold for $65,175., which translates to about a two thousand dollar chest, with sixty thousand dollars worth of figured maple! I actually expected it to bring a little more, but I think the few imperfections that it had kept the price from reaching its full potential. It had a good history, having been sold by the Liverants and illustrated in the Vermont furniture book.

The other piece that caught my eye was an exceptional miniature wooden bucket made in Hingham Massachusetts in the mid 19th century. The bucket, or firkin as they are often called, retains it's stunning original blue paint. Miniature Hingham buckets are rare as can be and are highly desirable to collectors, but to find one in this paint is an absolute prize. The impressed initials of Cotton Hersey, a well known Hingham craftsman, could be seen on the bottom of the piece. Hersey, born in 1792, was the earliest documented toy and miniature maker in Hingham, a community that went on to become the center for production of wooden toys. It was bought for a collector by Derin Bray, a new Hampshire buyer's agent and researcher who is conducting an in-depth study of the early Hingham woodenware makers. I have more than a passing interest in the subject, so I was glad to see that a number of bidders recognized how special this piece is. It set a new auction, if not a world record for a firkin, selling for $16,590. Be sure to keep in mind that this piece is only 2 1/2" high! What a great find.

Terrific Chippendale “roundabout” chair turns up.
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I had some friends come by and visit during the Antiques Roadshow appraisal event in Atlanta. They snapped this photo as I was preparing to appraise a 19th century Dutch hooded clock. People always enjoy seeing the set and how the process works. The lights, cameras and buzz of the crowd make it an exciting place to be.

Atlanta was a great city for antiques. My fellow appraiser J. Michael Flanagan was taped with a pretty special mid 18th century Chippendale corner chair (or roundabout chair). It was made in New York and survived in exceptional condition. Formal Chippendale corner chairs often have a single cabriole leg in the front, while the other three are more simple turned legs. This chair was rare and desirable for having three cabriole legs with ball and claw feet, rather than one. Not surprisingly, Michael placed a six figure value on it.

The clocks of a murderer appraised at Atlanta Roadshow
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I appraised clocks at the Atlanta Roadshow on Saturday, where we saw a nice selection of pretty good clocks. In all, five were appraised on camera plus I was interviewed by Antiques Roadshow Insider Magazine regarding a sixth clock. My fellow appraiser John Delaney went on camera with two pieces from a nice collection of high end reproduction clocks.

The two repro clocks that were taped for TV were a girandole and a lyre clock, both made by Elmer Stennes in Weymouth, MA. Elmer was a talented cabinet maker who specialized in creating excellent reproductions of the best and rarest early American clocks. He was also a murderer and died in a hail of bullets at the hand of still another murderer! active in the 1940s through his death in 1975, he produced what are today, some of the most valuable and sought-after reproduction clocks. In 1968, during an argument with his wife, he grabbed his .357 magnum and shot her dead. He admitted to shooting her, but amazingly, while awaiting trial he was released on bail and continued to make clocks. In addition to his name, he branded these clocks “O. O. B.,” for “out on bond”.

He served only 28 months of an 8 to 10 year sentence, but continued to make clocks while in prison. These clocks were branded “M.C.I.P.” for “Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Plymouth”, or with his strange sense of humor “made clocks in prison”.

Stennes was released in 1972 and he married again in 1973 (who would marry a guy that had killed his previous wife??). “live by the sword, die by the sword”, Elmer had made enemies and he met his sword in October of 1975. Two gunman bypassed the alarm in his home and executed him in his own bed. The intruders shot him five times and his wife seven. She actually survived and claimed that Stennes’ son had been one of the shooters. Many believed he had good reason, between Father murdering Mother and being written out of the will in favor of a new wife. There is also the question of how the intruders knew how to bypass the alarm.

The killings didn’t stop! Elmer’s Daughter took her own life the following year by stabbing herself. Her employer was murdered as well and a man who sold clocks for Stennes killed himself. I’m just glad not have been born into that family.

The legacy of Stennes and his clocks lives on. Collectors pay thousands of dollars to own his work. Watch the show next year to see if this appraisal makes it to television.

* Much of this information was taken from Jeanne Schinto’s article “Murder on Tick Tock Lane, an Account of Elmer O. Stennes”

Antiques Week in New Hampshire is upon us again!
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Every August, antiques nuts such as yours truly flock to Manchester, NH for “Antiques Week”. This year will be no different. As usual, the festivities will center around the New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Association’s annual show (known within the trade as “the Dealers Show”). The NHADA show has been around since the beginning of time! Actually, for me it has. The first show took place the summer I was born.

The Northeast Auctions summer sale is about as big a draw as the Dealers Show. I spoke with auctioneer Ron Borgeault the other day and he’s happy with his offerings this weekend. His sale includes lots of folk art and country furniture, with some more formal things thrown in. I’m chasing a few objects on commission for my clients, but I’m certainly not planning to share those with you here.

There are nearly 200 dealers exhibiting between Frank Gaglio’s two shows, Manchester Pickers Market and Mid Week in Manchester, both of which are worth a visit. I’ve had good luck at both shows. There’s even a new 35 dealer show opening close by in Goffstown at the “From Out of the Woods Antique Center”.

Thousands of people come from all over the country to attend the auctions and antiques fairs. We have to start calling them antiques fairs, rather than shows, because that is the way the young and hip refer to them. Not that I’m young or hip, but I’m trying.

Amazing new record find at Antiques Roadshow
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A new record was just set for the highest appraisal ever recorded on an Antiques Roadshow episode. It happened at the Tulsa, Oklahoma event on July 23rd, when Appraiser Lark Mason appraised a collection of five carved and decorated late 17th or early 18th century Chinese libation cups. These are not ordinary cups though. They were fashioned from rhinoceros horn that were intricately carved and shaped into drinking vessels. Apparently, the Chinese favored rhinoceros horn as a material to form into cups for drinking rice wine. The natural horn is hollow at the base, which makes it conducive to forming into the shape of a cup. The Gentleman who brought the cups in to the show, is an art collector who had no idea of their extreme value. He had purchased them in the 1970s for a few thousand dollars, long before the market for important Chinese artifacts went crazy.

Lark appraised the set at $1 million to 1.5 million. That's in U.S. Dollars my friends! The episode will air sometime after January 1st. I'm still waiting for that seven figure object to show up at my table.

Rarely seen objects from the White House Collection to be on view at The Smithsonian
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Back in 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had the vision and sense of culture to begin forming a collection of American decorative arts at the white house. What she started 40 years ago has grown into an extraordinary repository for some of the finest examples of Early American furniture and decorative objects. It's a show place, where foreign dignitaries as well as Americans can get a sense of the craftsmanship that defined early America. A number of the pieces from that collection will be on view at the Smithsonian Museum starting this fall. I don't know about you, but I haven't gotten any phone calls from the president lately, inviting me to stop by and check out all the cool old stuff in his house. This could be our opportunity. Click to read more of the story at ARTFIXdailey.

Tintype photo of outlaw Billy The Kid sold for WHAT?
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The only authenticated photograph of legendary outlaw William H. Bonney, more commonly known as Billy The Kid, was recently sold for $2.3 million, but that's not the most interesting part of this story! The tiny 2" x 3" tintype image set a new record for an original photograph when it was sold to a collector at a Denver auction.

Decades ago, based on this image, Billy The Kid became known as the left handed gun. A movie by that name was produced in 1958, starring Paul Newman as Billy. Only problem was, he wasn't left handed! But wait, he can clearly be seen here holding an 1873 model Winchester rifle in his right hand and wearing a revolver on his left hip. Confused? Apparently those who assigned him the left handed gun moniker were not students of early photography. It seems that the process of creating a so called tintype photograph generally produced a reverse image, so it appears as a mirror of the actual subject. Close examination of this image, with the help of National Firearms Museum Curator, Phil Schreier, holds the key to Billy's actual right handedness. The images shows the rifle's loading gate on the left side of the rifle, when it is actually on the right. Reverse the image so the rifle is correctly oriented, and Billy transforms into a righty.

Legend has it that the young outlaw, who's true name was William H. McCarty, killed 21 people, one for every year of his short life. The actual number was likely much lower. Regarded by those who knew him as charismatic and fun loving, Bonney met his demise at the hands of the equally legendary lawman Pat Garret. After being sentenced to hang for murder, Bonney escaped from prison by killing his two guards. In July of 1881, Sheriff Garrett, following a tip, entered the house where Bonney was hiding out and shot him once in the chest.

Today’s random unrelated thoughts for the antiques blog
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We recently bought an interesting Federal chest on chest from the Salem, MA school of cabinetmakers and wood carvers. We have just begun doing a little research on it. Matt was pretty excited to find that the carved rosettes are a nearly identical match to some attributed to the McIntire workshop by Dean Lahikainan in his book entitled, Samuel McIntire, Carving an American Style. It’s nice when the research supports our initial impressions. The carvings still show remnants of original gilding on the berries. It must have looked amazing when the surface was bright gold leaf.

I made a visit to Nantucket last weekend. Walking on Main Street there is like stepping back into the 18th century. It’s always a pleasure to walk around, taking in the architecture. Stopped into the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) and checked out the new Exhibit of objects from their collection. Wish I had time to see the new Rick Burns film on the history of Nantucket. It just opened at the NHA on July 1st. Have to go back soon to see it.

We’ve had great response to posting the prices of some of our inventory on the website. I think this system is here to stay. We are still tweaking the website and will be making changes and adding content in the coming months. There are a number of instructional videos that we plan to produce and post on the site, but finding the time is difficult.

Brimfield is next week. I’ll probably go one day. The July show is always very hot. I hope the tornado didn’t put any of the venues out of business. I don’t think it did.