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When Money is no Object collected by Mark Golodetz
collected by Mark Golodetz

When Money is no Object collected by Mark Golodetz
When Money is no Object collected by Mark Golodetz
This is the third time we have asked four insiders what they would buy if they found themselves at New York’s Winter Antiques Show with $1 million burning a hole in their pockets. In the past, we have found some incredible objects; a Tang horse, a magnificent Sevres vase, a Duncan Phyfe table, delicate Eskimo goggles, and an enormous cockerel weathervane. But it had become obvious that you can’t really have a decent fantasy spending spree with just $1 million. Not if you want to buy a painting or two or — as you will see — a full suit of armor. So we took away the $1 million limit, while retaining the requirement that, of the four objects selected, one should cost around $15,000 and two should come from outside our “buyer’s” comfort zone. This year we also decided to venture beyond the Winter Antiques Show since New York is host to several fairs in January, all featuring gorgeous objects. Although most of the pieces chosen were from the Winter Show, our buyers also selected items at the Ceramics Fair at the National Academy Museum and The American Antiques Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion. This year’s results were surprising: Only one piece “cost” over a million dollars, and a couple of us did not know what to do with our new freedom and managed to buy all four objects for less than the million. Even with such frugality, this may be the most interesting group we have come up with yet. You be the judge.

Bruce Perkins is a principle of Flather & Perkins Inc., Washington, D.C., where he specializes in fine art insurance. He collects Chinese export porcelain.

James E. Buttersworth (1817–1894), pair of paintings depicting the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, ca. 1870. Priced at $750,000. Courtesy of Hyland Granby Antiques, Hyannis Port, Ma.

Full suit of field armor from the armory of Heinrich I, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, Northern Germany, dated 1549. Courtesy of Peter Finer, Fine Antique Arms and Armour, London. Priced at $2,500,000.

As a collector, spending money has never been a problem. Finding something I would absolutely love to have, however, has become more and more difficult every year. So I decided to take a visceral approach with my “unlimited budget” and seek out four totally different objects that were the best of their kind and, more importantly, really grabbed me.

Since the only restriction was that one of the items selected must cost $15,000 or less, I thought it best to concentrate on that first. In Elinor Gordon’s booth, I found a gorgeous six-and-a-half-inch Rose Fitzhugh Chinese export porcelain plate, circa 1810, for the required amount. I have a modest collection of all the different colors of Fitzhugh and this example was one of the rarest and most stunning I have ever seen.

My second find was equally rare and beautiful. At Stephen and Carol Hubers’ booth I picked a magnificently embroidered sampler worked with silk threads on a linen ground by Anne Pope in the mid-eighteenth century. I was struck by the workmanship and the incredibly vibrant colors. The central scene was of a shepherdess seated in a landscape feeding a tame bird. A house, rolling hills, a docile cow, and squirrel were all surrounded by a wide floral border of flowers, trailing vines, birds, and animals. An exceptional find for $240,000.

Sampler, by Ann Pope, American or English, mid-eighteenth century. Courtesy of Stephen & Carol Huber, Old Saybrook, Conn. Priced at $240,000.

For many years I have admired what Hyland Granby has to offer. This year I was floored by the quality of a pair of circa-1870 oil paintings by James Buttersworth (1817–1894) depicting American ships off the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan; one with Castle Garden in the background and the other showing Castle William on Governor’s Island. Both illustrate the New York Yacht Club’s America, along with a dory with five figures, including oarsman, and an American navy ship — a very rare and handsome pair of paintings, priced at $750,000.

Rose Fitzhugh Chinese export porcelain plate, circa 1810. Diam. 6-1/2 inches. Elinor Gordon Gallery, Villanova, Pa. Image not available; shown is a related plate, lot 65, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. George Fenimore Johnson, January 19, 2008, courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York. Priced at $15,000.

My fourth and favorite object grabbed me from across the room. An extremely fine and rare North German suit of heavy field armor stood guard in Peter Finer’s booth, the likes of which I have never seen, even in all my travels. Dated 1549, the suit, from the armory of Heinrich I, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, is masterfully articulated and engraved with bands and borders of foliage inhabited with flowers, birds, animals, putti, grotesques, winged hearts, and classical busts framed in wreaths. The asking price was $2,500,000.

My shopping spree was a wonderful exercise in that it gave me the opportunity to think like a big collector or museum and find the best object with no financial restrictions. I highly recommend doing this at the next show you attend. It was not only fun, but educational — and it was free.

Ellie Cullman is a founding partner of the New York decorating firm Cullman & Kravis, which specializes in interior decoration for collectors of fine art and antiques. She collaborated on this project with Tracey Pruzan, an interior designer with the firm. They are co-authors of Decorating Master Class (Spring 2008).

Pair of nodding head court maidens, Qianlong, ca. 1740. Made for the European market. H. 15-3/4 inches. Courtesy of Cohen and Cohen, Surrey, England. Priced at $225,000.

To quote Andy Warhol, “I don’t know, I just like everything.” Shopping the Winter Antiques Show, the Ceramics Show and the Folk Art Show is like shopping in a candy store.

With an imaginary million dollars or more to spend and no client to account for, my only problem—more a delightful challenge—would be to fall in love with something that was outside my fields of expertise. One of my first stops at the Armory was Mallett, where I swooned over a secretaire of acajou and ebony woods inset with brass from 1820, attributed to Bernard Molitor. Because of its scale, coloring, and extraordinary workmanship, this would be the cornerstone of any great collector’s living room. Priced at $504,000, this highly detailed piece of Empire furniture had a fantastic history, which Henry Neville of Mallet was only too happy to recount. I always ask dealers for stories about their pieces, because it is the history of an antique object that makes it distinct from something newly made, adding a welcome layer to any interior.

LEFT: Yup’ik Mask, Kuskokwim River, Alaska, late nineteenth century. Courtesy of Donald Ellis Gallery, Dundas, Canada, and New York. Priced at $650,000.

RIGHT: Seven breast augers, Sweden, eighteenth century. Courtesy of Robert Young Antiques, London. Priced at $12,000.

A collection of seven Swedish “breast augers” from the eighteenth century at Robert Young Antiques next caught my attention. Augers are large-scale drills once used in building. These early examples were made by hand and ingenuously driven by body power. This group had a unique sculptural quality. At Cullman & Kravis we are always searching for collections of small objects to create what we call “book-scapes,” which we arrange on bookshelves. The color and texture of the birch wood combined with the history of these seven augers — and their $12,000 price tag — made them especially appealing. Since they would be perfect for a large house in Vail I am working on for a client, I bought them!

Brass inlaid secretaire abattant, attributed to Bernard Molitor, France, ca. 1820. H. 79, D. 18, W. 49 in. Courtesy of Mallett, London and New York. Priced at $504,000.

Still at the Armory and in search of something outside of my comfort zone that would appeal to me, I visited Donald Ellis Gallery, where a late-nineteenth-century Yup’ik mask from the Kuskokwim River, Alaska, stopped me in my tracks. The two-foot-high wooden figure of a walrus morphing into a fish would transform any room, especially if seen alongside major works of modern art. I learned from Donald Ellis that this inspiring object had been previously owned by the surrealist artist André Breton. I found the little figure irresistible, so I added it to my list for $650,000.

At the Ceramics Fair, a striking fifteen-inch-high pair of nodding head court maidens on the stand of Cohen and Cohen completed my shopping trip. Priced at $225,000, the maidens’ blue coats with red hems were offset by the brilliant white of the Qianlong porcelain, still as luscious and clean as it had been in 1740, when these figures were made. The lingzhi-ruiy scepters they held represent wish granting as well as immortality, suggesting that these maidens will grant your every wish. Mine would be to always have $1,386,000 to spend on four fantastic objects!

Sharon Duane Koomler is director of the Shaker Museum and Library, Old Chatham and New Lebanon, New York. The museum’s loan exhibit was featured at the 2008 Winter Antiques Show.

LEFT: Blanket chest with drawers, Mount Lebanon, N.Y., ca. 1840. Courtesy of Suzanne Courcier and Robert W. Wilkins, Yarmouth Port, Mass. Priced at $85,000.

RIGHT: Cradle, New York, ca. 1820. Courtesy of Elliott and Grace Snyder, South Egremont, Mass. Priced at $48,000.

Painted tall clock, New England, ca. 1830; decoration attributed to George Robert Lawton, ca. 1870. Courtesy of David Schorsch and Eileen M. Smiles, Woodbury, Conn. Priced at $800,000.

My husband and I share a passion for Shaker history and material culture, and while our professional positions in a Shaker museum have steered our collecting away from Shaker objects, our personal collecting reflects aspects of our interests in Shaker culture. My fantasy shopping did, too! Related to our love of all things Shaker, we collect spiritually-charged folk art and Americana.

The obvious first choice in my buying spree came from Suzanne Courcier and Robert W. Wilkins. A classic New Lebanon, New York, two-drawer blanket chest in original yellow paint was offered at $85,000. This wonderful piece displayed all of the desirable attributes — bold drawer graduation, graceful mushroom-shaped cherry knobs, exquisite New Lebanon breadboard ends on the lid, and a remarkable painted surface with patina. In our house with few closets, it would provide great storage capacity.

A wonderful painted tall-case clock was my next “purchase.” The highly decorated clock, circa 1830, was offered by David Schorsch and Eileen M. Smiles at $800,000. The vibrant, multicolored decoration was applied circa 1870 and attributed to George Robert Lawton (1813–1885). One of three pieces known to have been painted by him, the clock’s colors and motifs are harmonious with those in our personal collection of contemporary folk art that includes works by Howard Finster, Mamie Deschillie, Karlyn Cauley, and Mary Proctor.

Doll pocket, American, ca. 1775. Courtesy of Jan Whitlock Textiles & Interiors, Malvern, Penn. Priced at $13,500.
My next choice reflects my love of historic American textiles. Jan Whitlock offered a rare linen doll pocket, for $13,500. This precious circa-1775 piece was only four inches tall and in remarkable condition. It would have been used in the same manner as a real pocket of the period, tied around the waist and used like a purse. The bird and leafy vine motif was embroidered in silk chain stitch, familiar motifs used by Shakers in mid-nineteenth-century gift drawings. It would display well alongside our early schoolgirl samplers.

Finally, I could not resist the cradle offered at $48,000 by Elliott and Grace Snyder, newcomers to the Winter Antiques Show. I was initially drawn to their booth by an unusual table with Shaker attribution, but was immediately taken by the cradle. It had two hands carved on each side at the head of the bed, reminiscent of this first-time grandmother’s caring hands. Found with its original finish, this New York State infant bed dates from the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Grace and I talked about how wonderful it would be for one of our grandchildren to rock gently to sleep in it.

Mark Golodetz is a regular contributor to Antiques & Fine Art. He writes about furniture and his first love, wine, for the Wine Enthusiast magazine.

LEFT: A reverse glass painting, China, late eighteenth century. 19 x 31-1/2 inches. Formerly in the collection of Princess Duru Shevar. Courtesy of Roger Keverne Ltd, London. Priced at $85,000.

RIGHT: Tilt-top table, Vermont, ca. 1800. Mahogany and bird’s-eye maple. Courtesy of Roberto Freitas, Stonington, Ct. Priced at $17,500.

Camel and rider, Tang dynasty, 618–907 AD. Glazed earthenware. H. 30-1/4 inches. Courtesy of Asiantiques, Winter Park, Fla. Priced at $85,000.

My sister is the frugal one in the family. I’m the one who never had a problem spending money, particularly others people’s. So it is with a sense of shock that I realize I barely spent half a million this year. Ah well! I like my objects, and as usual they have a strong Chinese flavor. The reverse mirror painting that I spotted at Roger Keverne’s booth came within my area of expertise, as many were exported to England (the glass was painted in China) and become a staple of the furniture trade. Technically, they were incredibly difficult to fashion; the artist first scraped away the silvering, and then painted on the back of the mirror so that it could be viewed the correct way from the other side. Priced at $85,000, this one had a fascinating provenance. It was owned at one point by Princess Duru Shevar who was married to one of the last Maharajahs of India. But it was the quality of the painting and the vibrant colors, especially the very rare powder-blue sky that drew me. The frame was original, quite understated, and brought out the subtlety of the coloring and the quality of the draftsmanship. One of the best I have seen in recent years.

I found my second piece, also Chinese, at The American Antiques Show; a stunning Tang camel and rider that probably traveled the Silk Road. It dominated the Asiantiques stand. The modeling was naturalistic and the mane, tail, and saddle beautifully detailed. But I was won over by the clearly unhappy kneeling camel; his mouth drawn back in a snarl while being urged forward by his foreign (non-Chinese) rider, who, with his coarse features and slightly askew mustache, had a slightly comic look. Retaining much of the original paint, it came accompanied by a radiocarbon report dating it to between 800 and 1200 a.d. Priced at $85,000.

Everett Shinn (1876–1953), Winter Circus Caravan, 1916. Watercolor on paper, 25-1/2 x 38-1/8 inches. Signed and dated at lower right: Everett Shinn/1916. Courtesy of Adelson Galleries, New York. Priced at $375,000.

I collect English furniture, but occasionally find something American that I like. Almost invariably, I look for something uniquely American rather than an interpretation of an English design. The tilt-top stand with a finely figured bird’s-eye maple top at Roberto Freitas’s stand at The American Antiques Show was both beautiful and sculptural. Priced at $17,500, it went a little beyond the $15,000 limit, but then I figured I had been so frugal elsewhere, I could cheat a little.

I returned to the Winter Antiques Show for my fourth object; a painting by Everett Shinn of a circus procession through wild countryside in winter, which I found at the Adelson Gallery stand for $375,000. Shinn, a member of The Eight and an illustrator, briefly worked with Samuel Goldwyn on a movie project about a circus at around the same time he painted this work. In this surrealistic winter landscape, the eye is drawn to the tiger at the center, its back a taut C shape, which is picked up by the driver, and, as if fading off to the side, by the whip. To the left the curve becomes even more pronounced with the serpentine of the elephant's trunk. I loved the fierce colors; the bright blues, whites, contrasting browns, and the incredible sense of movement in the painting.

Mark Golodetz is a contributing editor to The Wine Enthusiast and also consults for corporate and private cellars. He can be reached at MarkGolodetz@aol.com. He is a regular contributor to Antiques & Fine Art Magazine.

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