Musical Desk Hits $63,720 High Note at Case’s July 18 Auction
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— A Southern Federal desk, with unusual stringed instrument inset under its top, was the number one hit at the Summer Case Antiques Auction, to the tune of $63,720 (all prices include the buyer’s premium). It was one of the highest prices ever paid at auction for a piece of Tennessee furniture. The Tennessee State Museum fended off other institutional and private interest to win the piece, which was labeled and signed “Made by J.C. Burgner for William Paton September the 8, 1819”. John C. Burgner and his family made furniture in East Tennessee from 1817 until 1902, and scholars have been especially interested in their work following the discovery of a “waste book” with detailed information on each piece made in their shop, including materials, and in some cases prices and customers. Characteristics of Burgner furniture include highly figured woods, such as the tiger maple and curly cherry veneers found on this desk. The significance of the musical instrument underneath the top, however, remains a mystery.
The July 18 auction saw strong demand for both regional and international art. A carved limestone sculpture of a squirrel by William Edmondson (Tennessee, 1874-1951), the first African American to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, competed to $46,020 (est. $30,000-35,000), while overseas phone bidding spurred an oil on canvas by Basil Blackshaw (Irish, b. 1932) depicting three horses at exercise to a strong finish of $38,940. One of the auction’s sleepers was an unsigned but picturesque late 19th century oil on canvas forest scene, which soared to $9,204 against a $400-600 estimate. A naive landscape with cows by 19th century Kentucky artist Wilhelm Eilerts more than doubled its estimate at $7,316 (est. 2,400-3,400). Two rare landscape watercolors by Alabama artist Maria Howard Weeden (1847-1905) also doubled their estimates at $3,776 and $3,540. A Venetian canal scene by Hermann Herzog (German/American, 1832-1932) sailed to $7,080, and a farm landscape by Marian Parkhurst Sloane (Massachusetts, 1876-1954) set a new auction record for the artist at $4248. A small oil of a French Colonial cottage by Gilbert Gaul (American, 1855-1919) earned $2124. The auction featured several American paintings being sold by the Birmingham Museum of Art, including an Arthur Quartley (1839-1886) marine painting and a William Hart (1823-1894) landscape, both of which sold for $3,776, and a small Benjamin Champney (1817-1907) mountain oil, $3,068. Three paper silhouettes by Wilhelm Hunt Diederich (American, 1884-1953), each estimated in the $700-1,200 range, brought $4,012, $3,540, and $1,770. Highlights by Tennessee artists included a mid 19th century portrait of a woman by Washington Cooper (1809-1892), $1,534, a mid 20th century Smoky Mountain impressionist oil landscape by Pauline Wallen, $1,416; a 19th century watercolor farm scene by Charles Mortimer Thompson (1858-1939), $767, and a 1959 abstract oil by Charles Kermit Ewing (1910-1976), $1,121.
Adding a definite sparkle to the auction was a collection of jewelry from the estate of Mrs. Warren Wright, formerly of Kentucky’s famed Calumet Farm (a farm which produced several Kentucky Derby Winners and 2 Triple Crown champions). Mrs. Wright’s jewelry collection included six pieces designed by George Headley (1908-1985), who apprenticed under Paul Flato and counted stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Judy Garland among his clients, and whose home later became Lexington’s Headley-Whitney Museum. A floor bidder earned an outburst of applause when she defeated five phone bidders to win a diamond and platinum brooch/pendant containing 11 carats worth of diamonds for $22,420 (est. $10,000-12,000). A pair of diamond and ruby pins brought $6,136, while a 10K “handshake” ring grasped $3,068, and a 14K gold and diamond brooch in the form of a jockey on a horse crossed the finish line at $2,124. A Tiffany 18K cigarette case brought $4,720, while an 18K bracelet with jeweled lion’s head clasp made $2,360, the same price as a pair of 18K yellow gold and diamond rosebud shaped earrings. A Mark Chee turquoise and silver bracelet wrapped up $2,124 (est. $600-800).
A full cadre of phone bidders plus several floor and internet bidders pursued an 1814 silver Masonic medallion from Russellville, Kentucky, to $5,192, while a French-made silver spoon, purchased by President Andrew Jackson in 1833 and used in the White House, served up $2,419. Other standouts in the silver category came primarily from two large single-owner silver collections. They included a Victorian coin silver pitcher with marks for F.H. Clark of Memphis, from the family of that city’s first mayor, $4,012; a Federal coin coffee pot on warming stand by John and Peter Targee, $3,658; a Victorian coin silver kettle on stand, $2,714, a Victorian coin silver creamer with retailer marks for Nashville’s Thomas Gowdey, $2,006; and a rare Southern, mid 19th century coin silver water dipper, $1,298.
By far, the auction’s most bid-upon lot was a late 19th century French gilt bronze spherical weight clock, powered by the gravity of falling balls. It garnered the highest number of online bids and attracted 5 phone bidders as well, racing to $23,600. A French patinated and gilt bronze allegorical figural clock with works signed Deniere a Paris ticked to $6,844, while an 18th century English bracket clock in Japanned case, the dial signed William Jourdain, London, rang up $4,012.
A pair of Guangxu yellow porcelain bowls led the Asian category at $21,240, and a Chinese export silver tea service with raised dragon design served up $4,720. A Chinese cloisonné vase emblazoned with the crossed flags of America and China, which descended from a Navy Paymaster who sailed with the Great White Fleet, landed at $2,950 (est. $500-700), and a Meiji period mixed metals vase with raised figural decoration earned $2,419. The Asian category also featured Chinese pieces from the estates of the late Lt. Col. and Mrs. Adna Godfrey Wilde. Wilde, known in the collecting world for his directorship of the American Numismatic Association, spent many years in the military in Asia, during which he and his wife collected jade, bronzes, and other Asian items. Top sellers included a small gilt bronze stamp box, $6,726, a gilt bronze Buddhist figure, $4,012, a Ming period Dehuaware seal with figural lion handle, $3,422, and a white jade toggle in the form of twins, $1,534.
A Revolutionary War map, titled “A Plan of the Attack on Fort Sulivan near Charles Town in South Carolina (1776),” brought $5,428, while a 1794 map of Kentucky earned $4,484 and a 1795 map of Tennessee sold for $2,242. Two pairs of 17th century Baroque astronomical charts by Johann Zahn reached for $2,242 and $1,888. A circa 1927 photograph of the Supreme Court, signed by all of the justices including William H. Taft, the only president to also serve as a Supreme Court Justice, hammered at $4,012, and a Confederate ambrotype depicting a Virginia officer in uniform, holding his sword, commanded $2,006.
Besides the top-selling desk, several other pieces of furniture brought robust prices; most were regional forms from two East Tennessee estates. Two Tennessee corner cupboards sold above their estimates: one with paneled doors and dentil molding, $4,248, the other a red painted example with single glazed door, $4,012. There was a healthy appetite for East Tennessee/Western Virginia pie safes, including one with lyre-decorated punched tins, $3,540, and a pie safe/sideboard with painted Masonic tins, $3,304. A small painted blanket box, pictured in the book The Art and Furniture of East Tennessee doubled its estimate at $1,652, and a Middle Tennessee walnut sugar chest with Sheraton style turned legs closed at $5,192. Two George II style mirrors with large figural eagle carved cornices brought $4,248 (the pair) and two Robert Adam style painted console tables with scagliola inlaid marble tops earned $3,776 (the pair).
A rare, double handled stoneware urn signed by George Dunn of Middle Tennessee, dated 1875, found at a yard sale for $5, shot to $5,192. A large 5-gallon stoneware jug with cobalt decoration, attributed to the Decker pottery of Washington County, Tennessee, brought $1180, while a small lead glazed jug with manganese daubed decoration, attributed to the Cain pottery of East Tennessee, doubled its estimate at $3,776. A 2-gallon Lincoln County, North Carolina, alkaline glazed jug marked HR for Henry Ritchie, shot to $2,006 (est. $500-700). Other popular ceramics included a Newcomb College teapot with scenic decoration, $2,419, and a pair of Meissen figural cherubs, $3,776.
Offered near the end of the auction was a circa 1900 cast iron penny-slot Golf game, designed by London’s Automatic Sports Company. It drew intense interest from bidders in both the U.S. and the U.K., and birdied at $17,110 (est. $2,400-$3,400). Other highlights included a large “totem” sculpture by contemporary glass artist Richard Jolley (b. 1952), $9,440, and a multi-colored glass sculpture by Jon M. Wolfe (b. 1955), $1,770; a Kentucky needlework sampler dated 1831, $2,714; and a patriotic-themed slag glass lamp by the Northwest Aluminum Speciality Company, $1,888.
Case is currently accepting consignments for upcoming auctions. For more information, call the gallery in Knoxville at (865) 558-3033 or the company’s Nashville office at (615) 812-6096 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- This unique Federal desk, labeled by well-documented East Tennessee cabinetmaker J.C. Burgner, featured a hidden stringed instrument under the top. It struck the right chord with buyers, competing to $63,720.
- A carved limestone squirrel by William Edmondson sold for $46,020 (est. $30,000-$35,000).
- Phone bidders from across the pond chased this oil by Irish artist Basil Blackshaw to $38,940.
- 11-carat total weight diamond pin/pendant, one of several 1940s jewelry pieces in the sale designed by Paul Flato protégé George Headley, sparkled at $22,420 (est. $10,000-12,000).
- A rare cast iron penny-slot Golf Game by London’s Automatic Sports Company hit $17,110.
- A White House silver-gilt dessert spoon made by Pierre-Joseph Dehanne of Paris and used during the Andrew Jackson administration found a new home for $2,419.