Gary Sullivan's Antique Clocks and Furniture Blog


Antique Clocks and Furniture

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.

Skinner July 16th Science and Technology sale is online

Robert Cheney has once again assembled an impressive selection of clocks, scientific instruments and mechanical devices for Skinner’s July 16th sale. Poking through the catalog of a sale like this is fun for those of us who like vintage mechanical oddities and such. The sale includes a pretty impressive grouping of Connecticut shelf clocks too. Be sure to spend plenty of time on our website before taking a look at theirs!! Nice work Robert.

Prices now posted on much of my inventory
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For some time I have debated in my mind whether or not to post our inventory prices online. Historically we have followed the antique dealer convention of not posting the prices, but after a recent experiment resulted in increased activity, I’ve reconsidered. You’ll now find the price listed on select objects. Take a look and let me know what you think. Better still, find an object that you can’t live without!

Stolen Thomas Claggett tall case clock repatriated after 34 years
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On Friday I hung the weights and started the pendulum in motion on an extremely rare Thomas Claggett tall case (grandfather) clock that has finally returned home. Made in Newport, RI circa 1740-60, and housed in a classic blocked-door Newport case, It was stolen from a family homestead just outside of Newport in April of 1977. My involvement in the recovery started about a year ago when I was asked to render an expert opinion as to whether detailed photos of a Claggett clock owned in Mississippi could be positively identified as the same clock seen in family photos taken in the 1960s and 70s before it was stolen. The brass dial (face) of the clock incorporates a rare rocking ship feature in the arched top. A small painted ship (currently missing) bobs back and forth with the motion of the pendulum. Behind the ship is a wonderful and unique painted scene of Goat Island, off of Newport. The details in the two sets of photos were clear enough to make a positive connection. They were one in the same.

Happy to play a roll in returning the clock to the front room of the family homestead where it had resided since it was originally purchased about 250 years ago, I put my opinion in writing. Three other antique clock/furniture experts did the same. Allegedly purchased for $650. at the Brimfield MA. flea market in 1975 (two years before it was actually stolen) The intrigue, subterfuge, bazaar coincidences and twists and turns that took place over the last year and a half would fill a book. The circuitous rout to recovery began with a failed attempt to sell the clock on Ebay in early 2010, and is said to have included a falsified bill of sale, incompetent police work, a “fascinating” Mississippi legal system, the astuteness of a Massachusetts auctioneer who “smelled a rat” and the pure dumb luck of the theft coming to the attention of a distant family member who happened to have an interest in Claggett clocks.

This is such an interesting business. Not too many other lines of work offer such a varied an interesting menu on a day to day basis.

Blogging about antiques
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My antiques blog is a new adventure and I’m really enjoying it. I hope you are as well. The new website, and particularly the blog are still largely undiscovered, so please tell your friends to visit the site and check it out. There don’t seem to be too many antique furniture blogs, particularly not with a slant toward the Early American furniture and clocks that we handle, so I think there is a need. Please give us feedback in the form of email or by posting comments on the individual blogs. Tell us what you like to read and what you don’t. That’s the only way I can determine what type of blogs to write. Do you like short, casual blogs, day-to-day antiques business discussions, or more in depth scholarship. Thanks for reading, I look forward to hearing from you.

El Paso Roadshow trip
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Spent Friday and Saturday in El Paso for Antiques Roadshow. It’s hot there! Went to a great rib joint Friday night and in the process tested the limit of how many antique appraisers can fit into a rental Camry. It was pretty quiet at the clocks and furniture tables, but I was taped with a nice 19th century French portico clock made of alabaster. I heard that a first edition of “The Hobbit” came in and was appraised for big bucks.

Important new reference book for collectors
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Attention clock and furniture collectors: A Terrific new book on American wood movement tall case clocks has just been released and every serious collector of folk art, furniture or clocks should have one. American Wooden Movement Tall Clocks 1712-1835 by Philip Morris has instantly taken its place as an essential reference book in my library. Philip has compiled a remarkable assemblage of tall case clocks, spanning several sub-categories that will be of great interest to clock and furniture collectors alike. Whether your interest is in early brass dial clocks, decorated folk art examples, or the work of specific craftsmen or regions, you’ll find it all in this scholarly publication. The quality and variety of the clocks is Stunning and the photography is exceptional. As a researcher, the previously unpublished biographical information will be invaluable to me. Even if you are not a clock collector, but have an interest in folk art or furniture, you should make this book part of your library. It is only available from the author:

Marilyn Monroe’s “subway dress” sets record at auction
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The iconic dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the famous scene from “The Seven Year Itch” just sold for a steamy price! Made famous in the shot where Monroe is standing over a subway grate as a train passes and billows her dress, it was expected to fetch one to two million dollars. When the dust had settled at an auction of objects from the Debbie Reynolds collection., it brought about 6 times the previous record for a costume. The new owner paid five and a half million dollars (5,520,000.00) for a pretty cool piece of movie history. Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” held the previous record at $923,187.