BOONTON, N.J. – Good design never goes out of style and hot on the heels of Sotheby’s Mario Buatta sale during Americana Week was a similar auction evincing good taste. It featured fine English and American furniture, sporting art and beautiful botanical porcelains. Millea Bros capitalized on the horde of buyers descending on greater New York City for Americana Week and offered a single-owner sale Jan. 30 of the collection of the late Elizabeth “Betty” Seeler. Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.
“I was surprised how many parallels there were between the types of property offered in both Betty’s and Mario’s auctions,” said Michael Millea, who noted that the two apparently knew each other, not surprisingly as each was well known in New York’s interior design circles.
Seeler, 92, died in November 2018. She graciously furnished her home in Forest Hill Gardens, buying from well-respected antique dealers and auction houses, including Peter Tillou, the Chrysler Garbisch Collection, Ginsburg & Levy, W. Graham Arader, Georgian Manor Antiques, and Earle Vandekar.
“It was just a little jewel of a sale. It was a true pleasure to sell her collection and buyers really responded to her fine antiques,” Millea said, noting the auction came in at 50 percent over its high estimate. “This was our first Americana Week auction and we couldn’t be more pleased with the results. In-house attendance was strong – a notable feat in this digital age when many buyers bid from their couches – and phone and online participation remained robust.”
The auction presented 400 lots of fine American and English decorative arts and antique furniture, American folk art and British Academic paintings, and Chinese Export decorative objects. While there was no single record-setting price, most items did within or above their high estimates, often surprising the auctioneers.
“There weren’t $20,000 sales but over and again, we had a $10,000 sale, a $6,000 sale, a $5,000 sale and so on,” Millea said. “I was super pleased with that. From an auctioneer’s standpoint, it’s not always the things that you’re paying attention to that do well. Other things often can sneak up on you and do really well and these made for a well-rounded auction.”
The top lot of the auction was the Hannah Fairfield double oil on canvas portrait of Lucy Adams Tracy and Ellen Nichols Tracy (above), circa 1839, having Peter Tillou provenance, which brought $21,250.
English botanical porcelains were featured in spades here and were an instant favorite with buyers. A veritable garden on china, pieces included all manner of colorful and detailed decoration of flowers, vegetables, fruits and berries. “These pieces were so visually pretty. Take the bodkin cases as an example. These are not something you see every day and even took us by surprise.”
Crossing the block early in the sale, the two English porcelain bodkin cases (below) have a naturalistic design and were made to store bodkins, a sewing tool. The first was made as a ribbed tree trunk crowned with a bouquet of roses and the second was fashioned in tulip form with leafy body and insect along with a petal-form parrot tulip cover. The pair was conservatively estimated at $700-1,000 but soared to $17,500.
Other botanical porcelains included an 18th-century pair of Longton Hall reticulated porcelain dishes with molded and pierced branching and leaves that brought $9,375 and a rare English Spode tulip-form tray and six cups going for $6,875. Both lots were estimated at $500-$700, but sold for much more. Similarly, a lot of two pairs of Staffordshire tulip-form vases ignored their $300-$500 estimate to fetch $6,250.
Paintings, especially sporting art, also performed well in the auction, led by a Francis Sartorius oil on canvas portrait of the champion horse, Whinigig, with his groom, circa 1769, that sold over estimate at $13,750, and a Richard Roper oil on canvas, “Portrait of Milo, Two Fox-Hounds & a Tarrier…,” circa 1755, that also went over estimate to fetch $10,000.
An oil on canvas view of Dover Castle and Bay by George Lambert, 1738, was another strong performer at $11,250 as were two Basso-Relievo paintings by Samuel Dixon depicting birds and flowers that went well over their $1,200-$1,800 estimate to attain $7,500.
A rare disappointment was the circa 1770 Connecticut Queen Anne cherry highboy with Ima Hogg and Peter Tillou provenance that failed to meet its reserve; it was estimated at $20,000-$30,000. “Sadly, the highboy did not work and I’m not really sure why. It’s a great piece of American furniture,” Millea said, noting Seeler’s family will decide what its future will be.
Rounding out the auction were a strikingly attractive Meissen or Wallendorf red cabbage-form tureen, 6½ inches tall, sprouting past its $500-700 estimate to bring $5,000; a 3½-inch tall William IV veneered tea caddy, estimated at $200-300, that realized $5,625, and a Brunschwig & Fils club chair and slipper chair ($150-250) that made $4,375.
All prices reported include the 25% buyer’s premium.
For more information contact Millea Bros. at 973-377-1500.