Friday, April 2, 2010

Thomas A. Gray Auction: Collectors Bullish on Confederate Currency

With a mixture of elation and lament, local friends, family, press and collectors converged to witness the scattering of the passionately assembled collection of Tom Gray a.k.a.: Mr. N.C. Decorative Arts (see our March 23rd posting of our interview with Tom below).  The energetic crowd that gathered in the Salem Academy and College’s Fine Arts Center for the preview reception, was a fusion of intellect and wealth.  Tom’s cachet, as a gentleman, scholar, and collector, attracted representatives from Colonial Williamsburg, Delware’s Winterthur, N.C.’s Tryon Palace, and Virginia’s Gunston Hall.  The high profile museums did not gather merely to socialize, demonstrated by their aggressive bidding the next morning.

Auction preview, March 28, 2010

The auction began at 10 AM the next day, and within minutes, the interest of collectors worldwide was telegraphed to the floor, as all 12 telephone representatives stood to signal the fierce, sophisticated competition. 

Lot # 15

Lot # 15 trampled the high estimate for a North Carolina Piedmont chest of drawers, crushing pervious records.  Heard in the crowd: “Lately they’ve been attainable all day and night from $7,000 - $9,000.”  This hammer came down at $22,000, promoting forgotten pieces from attics and summerhouses to focal point status.  It sent Jane Hill’s (The New Town Bee) pen scribbling furiously from the sidelines.

Lot # 55

A fine English striking lantern (clock) dated 1630 with an estimate of $3,000-$5,000, sent Robert Brunk spinning, as adamant bids came from all directions.  Pantomiming a conductor for the 1812 overture, Brunk revolved between internet, phone, and floor bidders, as the frenzy accelerated, and the price rapidly climbed to $17,000.

Barnard Elliott, Jr., Jeremiah Theus, Gibbes Museum of Art

The unfortunate looking Amarinthia Elliott, created more gyrations.  Her ironically, salacious provenance, having been sold to Tom by Jim Williams, for his murder defense, did not eclipse her proper social origins. This little girl shattered high estimates of $50,000 and someone has now quadrupled Tom’s purchase price, capturing her for $80,000, again smashing previous highs for a Theus.  I was hoping she would return to her brother (pictured above) and sister at The Gibbes, in Charleston. Rumor has it--she’s heading for Motown (The Detroit Institute of Arts). Monetarily, the initial Confederate dollars paid to Theus, continually translate to legal tender. That may be one definition of a masterpiece. 

Lot # 156

Sumpter Priddy III, a preeminent dealer/collector of Alexandria, Virginia with an infallible eye, watched his former Eastern Shore corner cupboard triple high estimates—another record price shattered by this scholarly collection. Lot # 156 was purchased by Roddy Moore of Virgina, for the astronomical price of $60,000.  His adamant bidding from the last row surprised some, observers, as he possesses none of the hauteur one imagines of such an erudite community. I believe that he represented an unknown buyer, as I was standing outside when he was on his cell phone—gleefully eavesdropping.  

Roddy Moore of Virginia

Tony Montag, the legendary collector from Atlanta charmed the room as the stunning North Carolina cellaret—1780-1795 Roanoke River Basin, took center stage. If you have ever wanted to know how to bid at auction, here is how it is done: You hold up your bid number, high with a huge grin on your face, and you leave it there until the auctioneer points at you and says: “sold!”  The room erupted with genuine applause, for both the cellaret and for Tony. This absolutely stunning, simple, master craftsman piece exceeded the previous record of $105,000 for a South Eastern cellaret by $35,000. 

Georgia paint-decorated cellaret, sold for $105,000 on May 30, 2009 through Brunk Auctions

The overriding message this auction transmitted was that South Eastern Decorative Arts are the blue chip holdings in the American antique world, leading the market out of the ashes of this very difficult recession. They are rare, thanks to General Sherman, and the South is finally “much obliged.”

More to come!!

1 comment:

  1. It was so good to talk to you via Chris this am. Love your blog, especially the above about auctions. John, my son worked for Christie's for years and experienced many a wow moment like you discribe. Congrats on a job well done. We look forward to meeting you some day.


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