KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— A record number of floor and phone bidders, a record number of online bidders, and a signed Beatles record that sold for $63,250 all combined to make the May 21st Spring Case Antiques auction the company’s most successful sale to date.
“While having a strong single lot like the Beatles album is great, what really encouraged us was increased demand and healthier prices than we’d seen in some time in most categories across the board – Asian, silver, ceramics, even furniture,” said company president John Case. He added that the 721 lot sale, held at the company’s gallery in Knoxville, Tennessee, was the company’s highest grossing auction ever.
The “Meet the Beatles” album, containing the group’s first U.S. chart topping hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” was signed by all four band members. It came from a descendent of Dr. Jules Gordon, the New York physician who treated George Harrison for strep throat on February 8, 1964, the day before the band’s American television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. With impeccable provenance and excellent condition in its favor, the album attracted heavy phone and internet bidding and quickly shot past its $15,000 top estimate to $63,250 (all prices include the 15% buyer’s premium).
Most of the buyers at the auction, however, were focused on fine and decorative art, particularly Southern regional material. That category included a miniature Tennessee cherry Classical press with two glazed doors won by a regional collector for $17,825, nearly ten times its estimate, while a full sized and finely grained cherry “Jackson Press” brought $2,990, the same price realized by a Southern walnut Chippendale high chest. A Knox County Tennessee walnut candlestand brought $1,380. A circa 1850 portrait of Confederate general Daniel Smith Donelson, for whom Fort Donelson was named, sold to Rock Castle, a Middle Tennessee historic house museum, for $7,590 (est. $3,500-4,500), and a Davidson County Tennessee sampler with alphabets, verse and floral border, signed and dated 1833, earned $6,440. A hand colored map of Kentucky and Tennessee dating from 1796 (one year prior to Tennessee statehood) sold for $1,840, while an 1877 folding postal map of Tennessee, measuring a generous 3 ½ ft by nearly 5 ½ ft, delivered $2,185.
Southern pottery is staple at Case auctions, but the performance of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia pottery was even more bullish than expected. Excitement over recently discovered pottery from the Mort family of Jefferson Co., Tennessee drove a J. Mort sine wave marked stoneware jug to $23,000, and a script-signed “George Mort 1859” redware jug to $19,550. A redware pitcher from the Mort family climbed to $6,900 (est. $1,000-$2,000), and a tintype of Sylvanus Mort in his Civil War (Union) uniform reached $5,290 (est. $700-$1,000). Other East Tennessee pottery performed well including a small redware jar attributed to C. A. Haun of Greene Co. which brought $3680 (est. $2,500-$3,500), a William Grindstaff jar with hairline cracks, $1,725 (est. $450-$550), a rare stamped “TBL” pitcher by Thomas Love of McMinn Co., $1,955, and a Knoxville Sullivan’s Saloon jug at $1,725 (est. $500-$600). Southwest Virginia was represented with an unusual cobalt decorated jug depicting a man with muttonchop sideburns in profile. It quickly passed its estimate of $3,000-$4,000 and ended at $6,670. North Carolina pottery was highlighted by a miniature stamped Himer Fox stoneware jug at $2,185 (est. $500-$600).
A panoramic oil on canvas of St. Mark’s Square in Venice viewed from the Grand Canal led the fine art offerings, selling to a Northeastern bidder for $13,225 (est. $8,000-$10,000). The artist was Warren W. Sheppard (American, 1858-1937), known for his marine paintings and views of Venice. A Tennessee fall landscape attributed to James Cameron, a 19th century Scottish-American artist whose work rarely comes on the market, made its $600-900 estimate look like a misprint, soaring to $6,900, and a sunset landscape with steamboat by Louisiana artist Robert Rucker (1932-2001) saw strong demand, finishing at $4,830. Two rare etchings by Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967), “Don Quixote” and “The Illustrator,” sold for $11,500 apiece, while a large nude color screenprint titled “Helen,” by Tom Wesselman (American, 1931-2004), earned $4,830. There were also four colored woodcuts by Bror Julius Olssen Nordfeldt (American, 1878-195), all of which consistently outpaced their estimates, with the “North Sea Fisherman” and “The Quarry” reaching $7,360 and $7,130 respectively. Other fine art highlight included a panoramic watercolor Tennessee farm scene by Lloyd Branson (1861-1925), $3,450, an oil on canvas landscape with ducks by Alexander Theobald Van Laer (American, 1857-1920), $2,300, and an oil on canvas harbor scene by Charles P. Gruppe (Canadian/American, 1860-1940), $2,645.
Asian material continued its hot streak; there were more Chinese bidders registered online than from any other country except the U.S. and Canada. An ivory collection brought to the U.S. from Asia in the late 19th and early 20th century by two wealthy Nashville candy tycoons was highlighted by a 6” high carved figure of Quan Yin, $2,645, while a string of Ojime beads in ivory, horn, Shibayama and other materials, from the same estate, sold on the phone for $5,520 (est. $1,400-$2,200). Individual ivory netsukes brought from $200-$550 apiece. A lot of 3 small Chinese Wucai eggshell porcelain wine cups with Yongzheng marks buzzed to $5,980 (est. $700-900), a pair of famille rose dishes with Baragon turned marks competed to $4,600 (est. $400-600), and a 12” Chinese oxblood flambé porcelain vase, Hu form, with Xianfeng mark, brought $2,415 (est. $500-700).
Silver was another consistently strong category in the sale, with most lots selling within or above estimates. The leading lot was a Mexican sterling coffee service with 8 pieces and tray, which sold for $11,040. A lot of 3 coin silver teaspoons bearing the mark of Tennessee silversmith Samuel Bell served up $748 (est. $400-450).
The auction included two particular single owner collections: fire related material and antique bicycles. The first was highlighted by a wood and cast iron miniature fire house by Ives, which reached $2,070 despite some condition issues, a silverplated presentation fire trumpet awarded in 1866 by members of The Hoboken Engine Co. No 1, $2,265, and a lot of four 19th century fire helmets, $1,725. The bike collection was led by a circa 1870 red painted “Boneshaker” by an unknown maker $5,290, an A. Dubois boneshaker, $4,600, and an 1883 Eagle high wheeler, $3,680.
Among the other noteworthy objects in the sale were a pair of Haviland porcelain game plates in the “flora and fauna” pattern designed for the Hayes White House by Theodore Davis, and bearing the Presidential eagle seal on the back. The pair realized $3,105 (est. $800-1200). Surprising interest propelled a 13” Nippon portrait vase with aqua ground, moriage decoration, and inset painting of Princess Louise to $4,600 against a $1,200-1,400 estimate, and a framed 36 star U.S. Centennial exposition flag flew at $4,140.
Case is currently preparing for its Fall Auction, featuring patriotic Americana and Southern folk art from the estate of A. Welling LaGrone Jr., two limestone works by William Edmondson, and James Earl Ray papers involving the Martin Luther King assassination from the estate of Ray’s attorney Jack Kershaw. The auction will take place October 1 at the company’s gallery in Knoxville. For more information, call the gallery in Knoxville at (865) 558-3033 or the Nashville office at (615) 812-6096.
1. “Meet The Beatles” album, signed by John, Paul, George and Ringo and given to the doctor who treated George the day before their 1964 Ed Sullivan Show appearance, sold for $63,250.
2. Southern pottery is a staple at Case Auctions. This sine wave stoneware jug, marked “J. Mort,” from a previously unrepresented family of Tennessee potters, reached $23,000.
3. A miniature Southern cherry Classical press with two glazed doors sold for $17,825 (est. $1,800-2,200).
4. A panoramic oil on canvas of St. Mark’s Square in Venice viewed from the Grand Canal competed to $13,225.
5. 19th century French red painted “Boneshaker” bicycle, unknown maker, $5,290 (est. $1,500-2,500).