George Washington Signed Book A $138,000 Bestseller At Case’s Jan. 27 Auction
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— A trove of historical books, documents and silver tied to George Washington and other Revolutionary War heroes helped Case ring in 2018 with one of its most successful sales to date. 4500 registered bidders from more than 60 countries participated in the January 27 auction at the company’s gallery in Knoxville, and 95% of the lots sold.
Leading the auction was an important book, owned and signed by George Washington and given to his friend and biographer, the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835). Published in 1789 by printer and patriot Isaiah Thomas, the leather-bound Volume 1 of The Massachusetts Magazine contained an account of Washington’s first inauguration as President, plus his memoirs, and Washington’s coat-of-arms engraved bookplate. The intriguingly personal piece of presidential ephemera surged to $138,000, shattering its $28,000-32,000 estimate (all prices include the buyer’s premium). The anonymous buyer bid via telephone, competing against 7 other phone bidders and multiple online suitors, including institutions and some of the nation’s leading book and manuscript dealers and collectors.
The book was found by dealer and consultant Carl Schow in the estate of Charles Boyd Coleman, Jr. of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Coleman was a direct descendant of Justice Marshall, and his family tree also included General Henry Dearborn and General Elias Dayton, along with distinguished Civil War soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Company president John Case likened the discovery of material from the estate to “finding a time capsule full of pivotal moments from American history” and noted that more objects from the estate will be sold in Case’s summer auction.
Justice Marshall’s personal copy of his biography of George Washington (second edition, 1832) reached $21,600 (est. $5,000-7,000), and a 1799 letter from George Washington to John Marshall congratulating him on his first election to public office tallied $19,200 (est. $12,000-14,000). A George II silver sauceboat, which descended in the John Marshall family with oral history of having a connection to Washington, served up $11,040. It bore a coat of arms attributed to the Bassett family, and likely belonged to Martha Washington’s niece, Fanny Bassett, who lived at Mount Vernon until her untimely death in 1796. It was accompanied by a velvet remnant said to have come from George Washington’s coat. John Marshall’s signed four-volume set of Plutarch’s Lives, published by James Crissy in Philadelphia,1825, brought $18,600, and Marshall-signed letters to his son and wife brought $4,560 and $4,320 respectively. A full-length oil portrait of Marshall hammered at $16,640. It is one of seven known portraits of Marshall by William James Hubard (Virginia, 1807-1862); all are nearly identical to the Hubard portrait currently in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. From the same estate, a Joseph Loring Federal silver cup with engraved initials for General Henry Dearborn (1750-1829) brought $3,240, while a military appointment signed by Gen. Dearborn and President Thomas Jefferson realized $3,120. An 1834 Andrew Jackson signed document conferring the rank of Major to Captain Greenleaf Dearborn marched to $2,176. An archive of material related to Marshall descendant, Lt. Col. Lewis Minor Coleman (CSA, Virginia, 1827-1863), including a tintype photo of Coleman in uniform, charged to $10,240, while Coleman’s bird’s eye view print of the University of Virginia, lithographed by Edward Sachse, landed at $11,264. A Civil War-era Annin & Co. flag unfurled at $5,520. It had been the property of Dearborn descendant Charles H. Boyd, who served the Union during the Civil War as chief topographical engineer for Gen. Henry Thomas.
Applause broke out in the saleroom when the only known lifetime painting of stallion Bonnie Scotland and groom, Robert Green, of the famous Nashville plantation and thoroughbred farm “Belle Meade,” crossed the finish line at $48,000 (its top estimate). The artist was Herbert Kittredge, a promising equine artist whose career was cut short by his death in 1881 at the age of 28. Bonnie Scotland’s progeny included War Admiral, Man O’War, and Seabiscuit, and his descendants are still winning races today, including the 2014 Derby Winner and 2016 American Horse of the Year, California Chrome.
“It was an especially significant painting because of the depiction of Robert Green, a slave at Belle Meade who stayed on as a paid employee after the Civil War,” commented Sarah Campbell Drury, Case’s Vice President of Fine and Decorative Arts. “His likeness reminds us of the often-forgotten role of African Americans to the sport of racing in the 19th century.”
The winning bidder, Belle Meade Plantation (now a house museum and historic site open to the public in Nashville) nosed out underbidders on the telephone and internet, after launching a campaign among supporters and on social media to raise money to buy the painting. A portrait of another Belle Meade horse, “Springfield,” by Thomas Scott (Kentucky, 1824-1888) raced to $7,920 (est. $3,400-3,800), selling to an anonymous phone bidder. Two museums competed against a dealer bidding by phone for a painting by William Frye (Alabama, 1822-1872) depicting an unnamed African American man standing in front of an edition of the Louisville Commercial newspaper (known for its anti-slavery leanings). Despite some tears to the canvas, it hammered down to one of the museums for $15,000. (The same institution also purchased a rare sampler made by an African girl in an English missionary school in Sierra Leone for $3,840). A folky early 19th century portrait of a little girl in a painted chair, descended in the Moran family of Middle Tennessee, blew past its $1,000-1,200 estimate to $8,640. Other Southern paintings of noted included a painting of a house by New Orleans artist James Michalopoulos, $5,040; a large house paint on wood panel painting of a dancing woman by Mose Tolliver, $4,096, and a Tennessee landscape by Thomas Campbell, $1,140. Memory paintings by Helen LaFrance (Kentucky, b. 1919) ranged from $1,320 for a still life to $6,240 for a detailed Church Picnic scene. A Carroll Cloar self-portrait lithograph titled “The Ingredients” sold for $3,480 against a $500-600 estimate, and a Charles William Smith woodcut of a Charleston, SC graveyard rested at $1,920.
European Art included Hans Zatzka oil of two partially nude women in a lavish, Orientalist style interior. It sold to a Middle Eastern buyer for $20,480, more than double its estimate. A portrait of a far more conservatively dressed 17th century noblewoman, attributed to the circle of Cornelis De Vos, sold to an overseas buyer for its top estimate, $7,936, while an early 19th century Dutch floral still life by Jan Van Doust flourished at $3,328. A painting of cats by Austrian born animal painter Carl Kahler purred to $6,720, and a Berlin style hand-painted porcelain plaque of a sleeping cherub rested at $4,560. An unsigned 18th century portrait of a well-dressed English gentleman sold for $3,000, and a portrait of a peasant girl in a floral wreath by William Oliver the Younger earned $2,560.
Sculpture included a 36” Victor Issa bronze of a nude woman, $4,608; Erte bronzes Melisande, $3,360 and Heat, $3,072; a Raymond Coins stone tablet carved with Adam and Eve motif, $2,400; and a Tim Lewis carved limestone Noah’s Ark, $1,920.
20th century fine and decorative arts met with avid interest, particularly a George Nakashima walnut credenza, which attracted 8 phone bidders and lots of internet interest, propelling it to $25,600 (est. $5,400-$5,800). Two vivid abstract watercolors by Beauford Delaney (American/Tennessee, 1901-1979), from the artist’s estate, achieved $15,000 and $7,440, while an archive of Delaney letters and paintbrushes drew $4,800. A Picasso Madoura “Visage” ceramic plate brought $7,936 and an Alexander Calder signed lithograph, “Homage to Ben Shahn,” doubled its estimate at $2,880. A Baker “Abalone” chandelier based on a mid-mod Tony Duquette design lit up at $5,632 and a vintage Abercrombie & Fitch leather footstool, in the form of a rhinoceros, trampled its $700-900 estimate to hit $2,688. A group of 3 Clyde Burt Art Pottery items made $1,320.
Several bidders craved a rare Middle Tennessee Sheraton sugar sideboard, pushing the price to $19,800 (est. $5,400-5,800). A Hepplewhite inlaid chest of drawers with deep top “bonnet” drawers, attributed to South Carolina, soared to $18,000, and an East Tennessee desk and bookcase tallied $16,200. An unusual Western Pennsylvania high chest, adorned with what John Case called “a tour de force of inlay,” reached $9,600; an inlaid Hepplewhite style chest of drawers attributed to the Lexington, KY shop of Porter Clay fetched $7,920; and an inlaid sideboard attributed to South Carolina served up $7,440. An English Regency secretary cabinet with ebonized trim including paw feet and sphinx decoration, from the Maple Grove Estate of Knoxville and featured in a Southern Living magazine article on the home, sold for $9,600, while a Chippendale carved tea table with birdcage, possibly from Philadelphia, earned $5,520.
Pottery, a staple at Case, included one of the earliest pieces to surface from “Dave,” an enslaved but literate artisan at the Lewis Miles Pottery of Edgefield, South Carolina. The double handled jar, inscribed LM and dated 1840, achieved $7,920 (est. $5,000-7,000). Other Southern related objects included a James LaFever Tennessee stoneware jug, $3,840, and a John Fashauer Kentucky stoneware jar, $2,280.
Textiles included an 1832 Kentucky house sampler by Eliza Pearson of Nelson County, $6,144, and a circa 1860 Tennessee pictorial sampler featuring a horse and rider, $3,120.
It was a good sale for jewelry and silver. The star jewelry lot was a 3.13 carat oval brilliant cut diamond ring, F color, VS1 clarity, with GIA report, which realized $36,000 (est. $24,000-28,000). An Art Deco platinum ring with two mine cut diamonds (approximately 1.4 carats) and twenty channel set sapphires sparkled at $6,960, and a Georgian 18K diamond bangle bracelet wrapped up $4,096. A set of five 22K yellow gold matching bangle bracelets sold for $2,816. A Kirk Repousse pattern 6-piece tea service including kettle sold for $11,040 (est. $8400-8800), while a Baltimore coin silver Repousse Monteith bowl with scenic design hammered down at $4,096. A George III Sterling Epergne brought $6,912, and a Continental silver figural griffin jug climbed ot $4,864. A large Old Sheffield meat dome with warming stand was a hot seller at $6,960, and a Whiting Sterling overlaid ruby glass biscuit jar quadrupled its estimate at $6,240. A Southern coin silver collector claimed a coin silver agricultural premium goblet with inscription for the 1858 Noxubee Fair in Mississippi, to $4,080, while a Bailey & Co. Victorian sterling ewer competed to $3,120, and a set of five Manchester sterling juleps with horseshoe decoration raced to $1,560.
Maps and documents, many from the estate of the late Dr. Benjamin Caldwell, enjoyed success as well. An 1834 set of working copies of the Tennessee State Constitution with margin notations, suggesting it was used during the Constitutional Convention, sold to an institution for $5,280, and an 1830s engraved tripartite view of Nashville, cut from an extremely scarce map by J.P. Ayres (only two copies are known to exist), shot to $3,120 against a $300-350 estimate. A J. Russell 1794 Kentucky map sold for $3,328, while a 1748 “New Map of Georgia” by Emmanuel Bowen tripled its estimate at $3,240. A Civil War letter archive related to the family of Rep. Francis Burton Craige of North Carolina brought $2,160.
A collection of 28 Chinese jade buckles, sold in multiple lots, brought a total of $30,556. Other Asian decorative arts included a Qing red lacquer armchair, $4,864; a Qing carved hardwood games table, $3,328; and a group of 3 Yixing teapots, $2,400. An archaic form bronze jue served up $2,880, while a bronze tree of life turned into a lamp made $2,880 and a Meiji bronze warrior figure prevailed at $1,536.
Two mechanical music collections struck a chord with buyers. Top lots included a Swiss music box on stand with interchangeable cylinders, $5,120; a Swiss Music Box with inlaid burlwood case and bird and bee strikers, $4,096; and a George Baker Troll Co. cylinder music box, $2,400. And a scarce Lyon and Healy harp shattered its $1,000 high estimate to hit a surprise high note of $18,600.
Other interesting objects included a scarce lithographed tin advertising tray and 4 glasses from the short-lived Alabama Brewing Co. (Birmingham, 1897-1908), $2,816, and a W.T. and C.D. Gunter Jack Daniels No. 7 clear glass whiskey bottle, $1,920; a Western Union Model 2825 3-A Ticker Tape with stand, $5,376, and a Solomon Reed full stock percussion long rifle, .40 cal., $5,280. A set of Baccarat gilded crystal bowls and tazzas earned $5,120, and a French gilt bronze table screen with enameled interior scene closed at $4,352.
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