Tag Archives: Auctions

A Heightened Sense of Detail

It’s rather jarring to read the lines written by Salem’s chatty diarist, the Reverend William Bentley, about his encounter with the Salem artist George Ropes Jr. in 1804: “Paid G. Ropes’ Bill for head of Curwin, Salem, Minister, the painting by him. He is a dumb boy with Corné. Had receipt. $4.00”.  Bentley had commissioned a portrait copy of the Reverend Samuel Curwen from Ropes, who was then an apprentice of the Italian emigré artist Michel Felice Cornè. George Ropes, Jr. (1788-1819), the son of a Salem sea captain (how many times have I written than?) was indeed born deaf and was by all accounts speechless for all of his relatively short life, but Bentley’s notes upon his early death are more telling: Died of consumption, deaf and dumb, a painter, active, acute, circumspect, and esteemed.”  Ropes had to become the primary breadwinner for his family upon his father’s death at sea in 1807 and so he became a practical  painter of signs and such as well as an artist. While all art is evidence for the historian, I’ve always felt that Ropes’ works are more documentary in their detail, particularly two paintings in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Launching of the Ship Fame (1802) and Crowninshield’s Wharf (1806). I’ve shown it here several times, but I can’t post on Ropes without including his masterpiece, Salem Common on Training Day (1808), which is also in the collection of the PEM. Those poplars! I can never see this painting too many times.

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George Ropes, Jr.: The Launching of the Ship Fame, Crowninshield’s Wharf, and Salem Common on Training Day, all courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.

My favorite story about Ropes comes from the Pickering Genealogythe source of endless interesting anecdotes about Salem people. In another testimony to his skill and eye for detail, it is noted that on one occasion when the parlor in the house of Jarathmeel Peirce was being papered, it was found that there was not enough, and it being imported paper, more could not be obtained. He undertook to finish it by painting, which he did so accurately that it was impossible to tell where his work began or where it ended. A decorating crisis averted!  Ropes is probably best known for his marine paintings, including a lovely “portrait” of George Crowninshield’s famous luxury yacht Cleopatra’s Barge, and several paintings of the USS Constitution in battle during the War of 1812.The US Constitution Museum has a series of four paintings painted by Ropes (after Corné) depicting the famous engagement with the HMS Guerriere in August of 1812 which earned the victorious American ship the nickname of “Old Ironsides”, and at the end of next month, a Ropes painting of the victory of the Constitution over the HMS Java in December of 1812 will be auctioned off at Dan Morphy Auctions in Pennsylvania. Artistic reportage, and some pretty bold titles, from this silent “signmaker”.

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George Ropes, Jr., the last of the Constitution and Guerriere paintings, USS Constitution Museum Collection; Constitution vs. Java, Morphy Auctions.


Salem Lots: the Beautiful and the Damned

I’m always checking upcoming auctions for Salem things and over the next week there are some beautiful items coming up for sale, representing the very best of golden-age craftsmanship in Salem, as well as one crafted-but-creepy item, which I’ll leave for last (as it is definitely least). Next Tuesday evening up in Portsmouth, Northeast Auctions is holding an auction featuring five lovely Salem lots, including a Samuel McIntire chair, and a drop-leaf table from the school of Nathaniel Gould. Could this rather low estimate on the chair be correct? Perhaps if there is light turnout (then why am I posting this?) and I do without (new clothes, books, food) for a while I could get it! There are a pair of “similar” mirrors and a great silhouette of Dr. Treadwell of Salem—I presume this is the elder Doctor John Dexter Treadwell (1768-1833) rather than the younger Doctor John Goodhue Treadwell (1805-1856, after whom the Treadwell Library at Massachusetts General Hospital is named), but I could be wrong.

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salem-lot-northeast-auctions-gould-table

salem-lot-northeast-gilt-mirrors

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At Northeast Auctions next week: a mahogany shield-back side-chair, carved by Samuel McIntire; Queen Anne mahogany single drop-leaf table, Salem, Nathaniel Gould School; One of two similar Massachusetts gilt-wood and eglomise mirrors; Full-length silhouette of Dr. Treadwell at Salem, Massachusetts.

Here in Massachusetts, An upcoming auction of books and manuscripts at Skinner Auctions includes an edition of a Salem-published book which I’ve written about before: Daniel Cady Eaton’s two-volume Ferns of North America (1877-1880). I have seen these volumes before, and the illustrations by J.H. Emerton and C.E. Faxon are truly beautiful.

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At Skinner’s Fine Books and Manuscripts Auction on October 30:  Daniel Cady Eaton’s Ferns of North America.

Okay, now for the creepy lot pertaining to the damned. I made a shocking discovery this afternoon as I was browsing around, a KKK money clip manufactured by Salem’s venerable Daniel Low & Company, the producer of the famous Salem witch spoon! And that very familiar image, is right there on the back. This…….artifact is among the lots in the Omega Auction Corporation’s Jewelry and Collectibles auction down in Florida tomorrow–there’s not much information in the auction listing and I was not inspired to do any research. I almost wasn’t going to include it among these lovely lots, but it is Salem-made, and history is not just made up of beautiful things, unfortunately.

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Omega Auctions, Hialeah, Florida:  a money clip with KKK and Salem Witch insignias SUPPOSEDLY made by Daniel Low & Co., Salem (see comments below, on the trail!)


August Americana Picks

August is the season of Americana offerings at auctions and antique shows, and I have my eyes on a few lots in upcoming auctions at my favorite regional auctioneers.I really don’t “need” anything, but that has never stopped me from looking, pretty much everywhere I go, but especially through online auction catalogs and at previews and shows. What am I looking for? I’m always entranced by transferware, even though (or perhaps because) I sold off my own collection of pink a few years ago. Creamware, pearlware and mochaware. MAPS, especially schoolgirl maps. SIGNS, Salem especially, but not necessarily. Fancy chairs, always. Interesting paper. Anything with an unusual texture or history. In the past, Federal card tables: they are going for a song now but I simply have too many. So here is what is tempting me from sales coming up over the next week or so at Northeast and Skinner Auctions.

at Northeast:

August American TT

August Americana Colonial Cupboard Northeast

August Americana Ships Passage 1817

August Americana Salem Harbor Soup Plate

Copeland Spode’s Transferware Tissue Patterns; Colonial Cupboard made in Hudson Valley, New York;  Ship’s Passage for the Brig “Ceres” of Salem, signed by President James Monroe, 1817; English creamware soup bowl (one of a pair–the other features Nantucket Harbor) decorated with green enamel and black transfer print of Salem Harbor.

At Skinner:

August Americana 1 Skinner

Americana Auctions Metamorphosis Skinner

August Americana Eagle Print Skinner

August Americana Chairs

August Americana Desk Skinner

A polychrome transfer-decorated Liverpool Pottery creamware pitcher, bearing the name of Captain James Barr, a Salem Privateer whose house is still standing on Lynde Streeet; A Metamorphosis, America or England, 18th century, watercolor and ink on paper depicting Adam and Eve, and a lion changing into a griffin; Framed print of an eagle with an olive branch; Set of NINE fancy chairs with old green paint (it looks black to me, but the description says green); a nineteenth-century schoolmaster’s desk. This last item is a bit rustic for me, but for some reason I just love it. Maybe because it’s almost back-to-school time. Maybe I want to bring it back to school WITH me and carry it around from room to room to bolster my mastery!


What She Left Behind

It’s an intriguing challenge to characterize people by what they left behind, and potentially a foolhardy one.Yet sometimes (actually often) I can’t help myself. While cleaning out my study just yesterday I came across one of my favorite little books, Old Salem Gardens, an illustrated historical and horticultural tour of Salem published by the Salem Garden Club in 1946. At its end is a poem: “Invitation to a Certain Garden at 43 Chestnut Street, Salem, For B.H.”: Enter here slowly. Haste has no part or lot/In this so lovely spot, Peace and tranquility/Possess it wholly. Here sunlight falls/ Gently, where branches lean/Over cool walls. Light touches lucent green/ Pure red and mystic blue, Pearl-pink and azure, old/Lavender,—fold on fold, Curve on curve, line on line/Making a pattern of Perfect design……. The poem goes on, and the “B.H.” to whom it is dedicated is the owner and gardener of this “lovely spot”: Bessie Cushman Ingalls Hussey, the “tall and willowy” lady who contributed the Chestnut Street garden history to Old Salem Gardens. More than a decade ago, I wrote an article about the garden at 43 Chestnut Street for the Journal of the New England Garden History Society, but its focus was more on the garden’s designer, the prominent, Olmstead-trained landscape architect Herbert J. Kellaway, than Mrs. Hussey. Yesterday I was looking at my files from this research and found myself a bit more curious about the client. Mrs. Hussey’s biographical facts were relatively easy to find: though born in Canada, she grew up in New Bedford, with many ties to Martha’s Vineyard through her mother’s family. She married into a prominent North Shore family in 1897, and spent the first half of her married life at the ancestral home of her husband, John Frederick Hussey, in Danversport. In 1925 the Husseys sold this large brick mansion, called Riverbank, to the New England School for the Deaf, apparently well below its appraised value, and also established an endowment for the school. They left Riverbank (now condos, of course) behind and moved just down the road to Salem, immediately commissioning Kellaway to design a walled garden behind their new/old house at 43 Chestnut Street.

Hussey House Riverbank

Hussey House 43 Chestnut

Hussey Garden Plan

Hussey Garden 1925-26

Hussey garden rear view 1930s

Hussey Garden 43 Chestnut Street

Riverbank in the 1890s and the House and Garden at 43 Chestnut Street in the 1920s and 1930s from the collection of the present owner and the Trustees of Reservations.

Her contributions to the Salem Garden Club and other local organizations (the D.A.R. and Temperance society among them) testify to Mrs. Hussey’s assimilation into Salem society, and we can get a glimpse inside the house as well as out through some of the items that she purchased from her Edgartown relatives, the Morse family, and others that derived from the North Shore. Several of her possessions appeared as lots in a Northeast auction a couple of years ago, including a Morse highboy and weathervane, and some wonderful etchings by her Chestnut Street neighbor Frank Benson. I love the bookplate! These material mementos of Bessie Ingalls Hussey show that at the very, very least, she had great taste.

Hussey Morse Chest

Hussey Morse Sign

Hussey painting Lester

Hussey Eagle Benson

Hussey bookplate Benson

Northeast Auction lots from the estate of Bessie Ingalls Hussey, 2013, including a Massachusetts highboy c. 1750 from her Morse relatives, a Gabriel weathervane from the Stephen Morse boatyard in Edgartown, a painting of Gloucester Harbor by William Lester Stevens, c. 1921, and two etchings by Frank Benson inscribed to Bessie Ingalls Hussey, 1933.

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Illustrations of Interest

There are several illustrations included in upcoming auctions that are of interest to me: some Salem things, and a few images which just appeal to me, period. First up is a little pamphlet by one of my representatives of Colonial Revival Salem, Mary Saltonstall Parker, who I wrote about more extensively here. She is known for her embroidery, her poetry and her prose, all of which evoked “Olde Salem” in a personal and heartfelt way. I can just imagine her and her contemporaries, including Frank Cousins and Mary Harrod Northend, working creatively and fervently to document all that was Salem (quite apart from the Witch Trials) in that heady decade of the 1890s. Mrs. Parker published little books continually through that decade, including one I do not have, Salem Scrap Book, with illustrations by S.E.C. Oliver, or Sarah E. Oliver, whom I presume is either the daughter or granddaughter of former Salem Mayor Henry Kemble Oliver, whose portrait is in the book. Miss Oliver’s illustrations are new to me so I’m going to search out for some more, because they look…..interesting. I also like how the content seems to be critiquing the two pillars of Salem tourism in the 1890s: Hawthorne and witches (now only one pillar stands): How Hawthorne would his face have hated, Burnt into cups, or silver-plated!…..We’ll let the poor old witches rest.

Salem Scrap Book

Salem Scrap Book 2

Swann Auction Galleries has a great auction of illustrated books coming up next week which includes several lots which caught my eye. I’ve always wanted a copy of Howard Pyle’s Book of the American Spirit, which includes images of several scenes of Salem “history”, including the previously-published young reputed witch on her way to the gallows and the iconic A Wolf had Not Been Seen in Salem for Thirty Years.  And speaking of Hawthorne, a 1918 English First Edition of Tanglewood Tales with illustrations by Edmund Dulac is also included in this Swann auction, as are more Dulac illustrations of famous and not-so-famous fables and fairy tales, the focus of this collection.

Pyle Dulcibel Spirit

Pyle Wolfe Salem

Hawthorne Dulac

Edmund-Dulac-Book-Tanglewood-Tales-First-Edition-1918-endpaper

Dulac Fables and Tales

Illustrations by Howard Pyle and Edmund Dulac from the upcoming Swann auction of the Salinas Collection of Fine Illustrated and Plate Books.

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A Pair of Pears

I had a pear-oriented day yesterday. I was trying to work on the syllabus for my upcoming graduate course on Elizabethan England as well as the three-semester schedule for our department’s course offerings. Both are rather tedious tasks so I was taking regular breaks and roaming (both digitally and literally) away for bouts of time. I always like to have an “inspirational image” on my syllabi, and under the pretense of looking for one I spent hours examining Elizabethan portraits. Hours. Who is this, where are they, what are they holding, why are they dressed that way? Then I would feel guilty and go back to the syllabus and the schedule. Then I would take another break and go outside and see what’s popped up in my garden, ride my bike, play with my cats, and come inside and scope out lots in upcoming auctions, between loads of laundry and stabs at my syllabus and schedule. So you see the rhythm of my day, and by the end of this day of searching for Elizabethan images and secreting away from my schedule I ended up fixated on a pair of pears (or two pairs of pears really).

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Pears by Sultan Skinner Auctions

Anonymous follow of William Larkin, Three Young Girls, c. 1620, Berger Collection, Denver Art Museum; Donald Sultan, Pears screenprint from Fruit, Flowers and a Fish, 1989-91, published by Parasol Press, Ltd., New York, Skinner Auctions.

The painting of the three girls is not even Elizabethan–it dates from a bit later. But look at these girls, so beautiful and so ready, but for what? To greet an eminent visitor? To assume command of the household upon the death of their mother? The ripe fruit held by the older two might represent their maturity (and fecundity) while the younger girl is still “playing” with dolls–is this one a representation of Queen Elizabeth? I’m quite preoccupied with this painting: apparently lots of research remains to be done on both its projection(s) and its painter. Sultan’s pears appeal to me aesthetically, though I don’t have any questions about them (such is my reaction to much modern art). In their craftsmanship and detail they do, however, remind me of a very famous Salem pear: Samuel McIntire’s carving of an exemplar pear grown in Ipswich first captured by his contemporary, artist Michele Felice Corné.

Pear Carving McIntire PEM

Pear model by Samuel McIntire, 1802-1811, after a painting by Michele Felice Corné, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.

I don’t feel like I have to draw Salem connections to every topic I write about here, but sometimes I can’t help it! Salem actually plays a very big role in pomological history as it prospered at a time when pears were much, much, much more important than mere apples, or any other tree fruit. More generally, Salem’s horticultural history is another example of its heritage that gets completely overshadowed by the giant Witch Trials. From Governor Endecott’s pear tree, planted around 1630 and still standing in nearby Danvers (then Salem–read a very complete history here), to the nearly as old and much commented-upon orange pear tree on the Hardy Street property of Captain William Allen, to the popular colonial pear cider, or “perry” made from Salem fruit, to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s grandfather Robert Manning’s vast “Pomological Garden” in North Salem, it is very evident that pears were popular, and perceived as representative of both Salem’s productivity and longevity. In a report on the Horticultural Exhibition held at the Essex Institute in 1850, the Horticultural Review and Botantical Magazine noted that this Salem must be a wonderful place for longevity. While we are boasting of our pears that begin to bear on bushes, three or four years old, these Salemites claim nearly as many centuries for some of theirs.

Pear Tree Danvers PC

Pears Buffum 1877

1910 postcard of the Endecott Pear Tree, Danvers; a pair of Buffum pears, one of the hundreds of varieties grown at Robert Manning’s “Pomological Garden” on Dearborn Street in the mid-19th century, from D.M. Dewey’s The nurseryman’s pocket specimen book : colored from nature : fruits, flowers, ornamental trees, shrubs, roses, &c (1872).

P.S. I did finish the syllabus, but not the schedule.


Lincoln’s Laboratory

I’ve been digging around in bins and folders for scraps of paper for as long as I can remember, and I do recall one item that caught my attention years ago: it was an envelope with a still-bright print of Abraham Lincoln depicted as some sort of wizardly chemist, an alchemist, I also recall thinking, in the midst of a rather wordy laboratory. It had a sticker marked $5 on it which struck me as quite steep at that time. Now I see that this same envelope fetched $2600 at a recent auction! The envelope, produced by the Salem stationery and publishing firm of G.M. Whipple and A.A. Smith (1860-1875), has become a highly-coveted example of Civil War propaganda, and I clearly missed out.

Union Alchemist

Whipple and Smith were not only showing their colors; they were marketing a relatively new product: the envelope itself. Before 1851 U.S. postage was charged by the sheet, so people simply folded their letters with sealing wax and mailed them off. In that year a flat postage rate was introduced for mail under a half-ounce and traveling less than 3,000 miles, so protective “covers” were introduced, which became patriotic covers a decade later. More than 10,000 embellished envelopes were produced in the North during the Civil War, much less in the South. They became collectible items even during that time, as many survive unaddressed—like the one I saw some time ago and those below. I can see why the “Union Alchemist” envelope is coveted today: its image and message is a bit more intricate than the majority of pro-Union covers I have seen–many featuring Jefferson Davis swinging from a rope (actually he is there, in the upper left-hand corner, in a specimen jar, next to General Beauregard).

Union Alchemist 3

Lincoln is writing prescriptions in a laboratory full of his distillations, including pure refined national elixir of liberty and metallic soap for erasing stains..for the southern market; he is not only the Great Emancipator (and the Great Distiller) but also the renowned rebel exterminator. It’s such a great image and item: what was I thinking years ago when I passed it by? I’ve found quite a few more in auction and historical archives, but none available, for $5 or $500: this is definitely one that got away, but I did catch a Salem octopus!

Lincoln Envelope Hakes Auctions

Lincoln's Laboratory PMA

Union Alchemist 2

Union Alchemist 5 Cowans

Union Alchemist 8

Union Alchemist Bangor

Civil War Cover

Whipple & Smith’s “Lincoln’s Laboratory or the Union Alchemist” covers, from Hake’s Americana & Collectibles, The Helfand Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The John A. McAllister Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia, Cowan’s Auctions, PBA Galleries, and the Bangor Historical Society.


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