Gary Sullivan's Antique Clocks and Furniture Blog


Antique Clocks and Furniture

The American Antiques Show (TAAS) cancelled
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The American Antiques Show, held in New York during antiques week will no longer be the place to find us in January. In the midst of financial difficulties, The Folk Art Museum has chosen not to continue with the show that has come to be known as TAAS. The museum has turned the show over to The Art Fair Company, an organization that runs high end art shows. Under the new management, it apparently will be quite a different show. Karen DiSaia has done a great job of managing the show for the museum, but based on what I know about The Art Fair Company, I'm sure the new show will be terrific. Even though the name and ownership of the show will change, the Folk Art Museum will still benefit from the gala preview party. I'm looking forward to learning more about the show and the possibly of being an exhibitor.

I need help locating northern clocks sold in the south 200 years ago
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I am currently researching the adventures of Hanover, Massachusetts clockmaker John Bailey Jr. In the 1815 to 1825 period, he was making regular trips to the south (Murfreesborough and Edenton, NC.), where he would temporarily set up shop to sell and repair clocks. He actually advertised his services in the Edenton Gazette. To date, I have located 5 clocks that he sold in NC. They each bear the name of their original owner on the dial. I know that there are more out there, so all of you collectors and dealers in the south, please keep an eye out for clocks signed, John Bailey Jr. / Hanover.

This is pretty interesting new research and I know there is more to the story. So far, I know that Bailey was bartering his clocks for commodities such as corn, cotton and feathers. He placed clocks on consignment with agents in North Carolina and possibly Virginia. When they sold, he preferred to receive payment in the form of bartered merchandise, so he could make an additional profit on the trade. On one of his visits to NC, he decided at the last minute to make the return trip overland, but sent his tools ahead by boat. That vessel never made it to Boston and his clock making tools were lost at sea along with most of the worldly belongings of his young apprentice from Murfreesborough.

Appraiser’s Seminar hosted by Brunk Auctions.
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I just spent two days in Ashville, NC for a Appraiser's Seminar hosted by Brunk Auctions. What a terrific idea, for Brunk to host an event where appraisers earn continuing education credits from The International Society of Appraisers while attending lectures by experts in various specialties. I was there to speak on methods of evaluating and appraising antique clocks. I didn't prepare very much, had about 15 slides in a Power Point presentation, and was a little nervous that I wouldn't have enough material to consume the hour and 15 minute slot. My fears were all for not, as I ended up rushing to include critical information after speaking for an hour and a half. Brunk had several clocks that are slated to be sold in future auctions, so I had plenty of material to refer to. I brought some examples of reverse painted glass panels from banjo clocks and a few clock dials (faces) to illustrate original verses restored paint.

The questions from this group of experienced appraisers were excellent. They kept me on my toes. The turnout was quite good, I think there were over 100 attendees. Hopefully some of them will contact me if they run across an important clock that needs appraising.

A busy day spent at the Brimfield, Mass flea market today
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Spent the day at the Brimfield, MA flea market today. Crowds were pretty heavy despite the cloudy/drizzly day. Didn't make any great discoveries this time, although I have done very well at various times in the past. For anyone who has not had the cultural experience of visiting Brimfield during one of their events, it is a must see. Held three separate weeks per year, the entire town is taken over by thousands of antique and junk dealers, collectors and enthusiasts. The people watching is terrific and you might even find a hidden treasure.

Ultra rare John Goddard games table acquired.
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We bought a superb Newport demi-lune games table at CRN Auctions last weekend. It was made in Newport, RI., and has a wonderful cabriole front leg with carved ball & claw foot and carving on the knee. The table dates to the 1760s and has the classic Newport style undercut carved talons on the Chippendale front foot and Queen Anne style feet in the rear. The semi-circular top flips open to reveal a storage well for the card-playing supplies of the day. The table came from a Newport family in the 1970s and was handled by noteworthy antiques dealer John Walton. It has been in a private collection ever since. A friend who happens to be a scholar on Goddard-Townsend Newport furniture remembers the house it came from and will be sharing the family history with me.

A nice bonus was the discovery that the table is illustrated in Master Craftsmen of Newport by Michael Moses. He associates the table with the workshop of John Goddard. Who am I to argue?

Winterthur Museum Furniture Forum, 2011.
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I'm heading home from this year's furniture forum, which was terrific. The subject of the conference was the furniture of southeastern Pennsylvania. It was accompanied by a new book entitled Paint, Pattern & People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725-1850. The book and exhibit represent several years of research and hard work by Winterthur Senior Curator of Furniture, Wendy Cooper and her assistant, Lisa Minardi. For the exhibit, they assembled an amazing collection of 18th and early 19th century furnishings. The exhibit includes some super Pennsylvania German pieces with excellent original painted decoration. I was thrilled to see that the exhibit also included quite a few tall case clocks.

With the maker's name and location often inscribed on the clock dials (faces), they are excellent documents in determining local cabinet making styles. When researching regional furniture, we don't have the luxury of reading the place of origin right on the face, as we can with clocks.

Gary has received recognition for 30 years with the NAWCC
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I just received a gift in the mail from the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (N.A.W.C.C.). They sent a cute tie tac in the form of a bracket clock, for 30 years of membership. Where did 30 years go? Yikes! Those were the days. Excellent clocks used to turn up at the regional meetings and great things could be found at the National Convention each year. If only I had the knowledge and capitol to take advantage of those opportunities. “I could have been a contender!. I used to look up to the clock experts, the ones who had the knowledge to buy a great clock. It didn’t take anywhere near as much money as it does now to buy something great.

Highboy Rescue at Wyoming Auction
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We have just purchased a “$650.” highboy for $60 thousand! Although I wish the numbers were reversed, I’m thrilled with the discovery and acquisition. Situations like this are what make the antiques business so fascinating and have certainly helped to hold my interest through the years.

What happened is this: In mid February I received a letter from a panicked beneficiary of a trust, who informed me that several antique objects from her stepmother’s estate had been under-valued by an appraiser and were slated to be sold in 9 days by a remote Wyoming auctioneer. Fearing that the antiques would sell for a fraction of their value, she was bringing the auction to the attention of qualified dealers that she found on the internet.

The key object, an eighteenth century Massachusetts bonnet-top high chest had been valued by an appraiser for the trust at $650. According to the heir, the high chest was a valuable Queen Anne piece and had been part of a fine furniture exhibit at the highly regarded Western Reserve Historical Society in 1969. She sent me an image of it from the exhibition catalogue. She had my interest.

The auctioneer, who customarily sells farm equipment, store fixtures and bric-a-brac, had a sense that the highboy had some value, but was unaware of how much. After some phone conversations, I learned that the sale of the important pieces had been postponed until April 9th and arranged to bid by telephone. By sale day, there were 14 phone lines on the high chest, which likely necessitated borrowing cell phones from everyone in town. I guess that at least on some level, word was out.

To my horror, the woman who called to execute my phone bid explained through a garbled signal, that the cell service at the county fairgrounds was dreadful and she hoped that we would not be disconnected. I pleaded with her not to let the auctioneer knock down the piece unless I was on the line. I wasn’t sure if she heard my pleas when we were disconnected for the first time. After a few agonizing minutes and multiple attempts, she reached me again just as the piece was hitting the block. Somewhere around 20 thousand, we were again disconnected. She was able to temporarily halt the auction while I was called back. It seemed like an eternity! Bidding resumed. Some of the other phone bidders must have dropped out, because the next time the line went dead, I was called back by a man on a different phone. The final person that I spoke to was still a second woman. She told me that she was standing outside in the snow because the signal was better. I can picture all those friends and family of the auctioneer, standing out in the snow on their cell phones. The bidding finally stopped at 60 thousand. I assume that the audience applauded, but I didn’t get to hear it, what with the sound being muffled by falling snow and all.

Rewind to a few days before the auction when I received a phone call from a long time business associate, Frank Levy of Levy Galleries. Frank had also received correspondence regarding the piece and eagerly asked if I was aware of a Hingham, Massachusetts high chest coming up for sale. Aside from myself, (and maybe the under bidder) Frank is one of a relatively few people who would recognize the obscure and surprising origin of this high chest. A few years ago, during my research on early Southeastern Massachusetts furniture for Harbor & Home, Levy Galleries had been very helpful in sharing information with me. They had owned a similar high chest made by the same cabinetmaker which helped me uncover his identity. He turned out to be Elisha Cushing Jr. (1746-1829), who made clock cases and furniture on Main St. in Hingham, MA. Some of the design characteristics of his pieces, such as steeply pitched pediments and fluted pilasters have a strong Connecticut influence, but they were made in Massachusetts.

You can see an almost identical high chest, read about his furniture and the attribution in an article that I wrote for Magazine Antiques with Brock Jobe. You can view that high chest on our site too.

Have you noticed an uptick in the antiques business this year?
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It seems as if all of the dealers that I speak to lately are pretty happy with the level of business that they’re doing lately. Sure, we all complain about the lack of available merchandise, but that will never change. The fact is, most of the active dealers that I know have noticed an uptick in their businesses this year. I say “active dealers” because there are plenty of dealers who don’t rely on this business for their actual income and are not aggressively beating the bushes every day to pay the bills. I am certainly one of the the later. What outside force do we attribute the increase in business to? I’m not sure. Perhaps people are feeling better about their portfolios, or real estate is moving again. Maybe we’re all tired of sitting on the sidelines.

Our office has seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls or emails from designers who need to fill orders. We can’t seem to keep up with requests for specific objects. I don’t attend too many auctions, particularly not the smaller venues. I get my auction reports from my friend and Colleague Phil Zexter, who is about the most active, plugged-in picker/dealer I know. He tells me that the prices on entry level pieces at auction, although still way down, have taken a jump. I believe we have hit the bottom of the market. There are opportunities to be had, so don’t wait too long.

Philadelphia Antiques Show
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I'm on an airplane returning from my annual pilgrimage to The Philadelphia Antiques Show. As always, the dealers showcased a nice selection of early American decorative arts. Among my favorite pieces were a great William & Mary dressing table, circa 1730 from Rhode Island and a fantastic painted wall cupboard with a facade in the form of a Federal house, complete with elaborate doorway. Arthur Liverant had the dressing table and Courcier Wilkins was offering the wall cupboard. The preview party was packed with people, which is always a good sign. I always enjoy this show because there is so much Americana to see.