Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A $5 Million Desk and a Chair From Salem Made a Record-Setting Pair at Christie's

Courtesy Christie's Images LTD 2011
This Chippendale block-and-shell carved and figured mahogany bureau, attributed to John Goddard, sold for $5,682,500 at auction.

Courtesy Christie's Images LTD 2011
This Federal-era carved mahogany side chair that craftsman Samuel McIntire sold for $662,500.

NEW YORK— The recently wobbly American furniture and folk art segment of the auction market received a big jolt of confidence on Friday when an 18th-century Chippendale block-and-shell mahogany desk attributed to Newport, Rhode Island, cabinetmaker John Goddard, sold for a whopping $5,682,500 at Christie's. Dating from circa 1765, the figured knee-hole desk — or bureau — rocketed past presale expectations of $700-900,000 and easily crushed the result made during its last auction appearance, when it sold for $940,000 at Sotheby’s New York in January 2005.

Multiple bidders chased the piece to the $3 million threshold, where the battle was taken over by American furniture dealers C.L. Prickett and William Samaha, both known for having deep-pocketed clients, who drove it to the $5 million hammer price (before the hefty buyer’s premium). Prickett was the winner, sending a handsome return to the table's Midwestern seller, considering that the piece had appreciated sixfold in that many years' time.

Though it stands as a record in American furniture for the bureau form, and the fourth priciest piece of American furniture to sell at auction, it lags far behind the most expensive ever sold, the so-called Nicholas Brown Chippendale block-and-shell desk and bookcase, also made in Newport in circa 1760-1770, that fetched a staggering $12.1 million back at Christie’s New York in June 1989.

During the 18th century, the Rhode Island port city was a bustling hub, flush with rich merchants, and cabinetmakers there had the pick of the finest imported woods available. Goddard was one of the best-known American craftsmen from that period.

The record bureau carries the "attributed to" tag since the piece isn't signed by Goddard, but it was undoubtedly made by him, since he presented it to his daughter, Catherine Goddard on the occasion of her marriage. It stayed in her family through several generations of descendants until it was sold by the maker's great-great-granddaughter in the early 1900s. A surviving handwritten label affixed to the top drawer of the table indicates that the elaborately carved and appointed desk was a wedding gift.

"This desk bears all the unique characteristics and quality of construction that make Newport furniture of this era so highly prized among collectors," said John Hays, the deputy Christie's Americas chairman who took the sale.

The Goddard desk was the sole lot of the 280 offered that hit the seven figure mark. The entire sale made $12,766,625, with a buy-in rate by lot of 20 percent and, by value, six percent.
Another record of sorts was realized by a Federal-era carved mahogany side chair that craftsman Samuel McIntire is believed to have finished for Salem resident Elias Hasket Derby in the last decade of the 18th century. It made $662,500 against a puny $30-50,000 presale estimate, a record for any piece of Federal furniture.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Damaged Warhol Painting Gets Top Dollar

Collectors rarely shoot holes in expensive art, but Dennis Hopper, the actor and art collector, thought his Andy Warhol screenprint of Mao Zedong looked dangerous one dark night. He shot two bullet holes in the picture. Warhol thought it amusing and signed one "warning shot" and the other "bullet hole." The picture, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, sold for $302,500 at a Christie's auction on January 12, 2011. It is a one-of-a-kind because of the artist-signed bullet holes, so the "damage" didn't lower the value.