KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A trove of historical books, documents and silver tied to George Washington and other Revolutionary War heroes helped Case ring in 2018 with one of its most successful sales to date. Approximately 4,500 registered bidders from more than 60 countries participated in the Jan. 27 auction at the company’s gallery in Knoxville, and 95 percent of the lots sold. Absentee and Internet bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.
Leading the auction was an important book, owned and signed by George Washington and given to his friend and biographer U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835). Published in 1789 by printer and patriot Isaiah Thomas, the leather-bound Volume 1 of The Massachusetts Magazine contained an account of Washington’s first inauguration as president, plus his memoirs, and Washington’s coat-of-arms engraved bookplate. The intriguingly personal piece of presidential ephemera surged to $138,000, shattering its $28,000-$32,000 estimate (all prices include the buyer’s premium). The anonymous buyer bid via telephone, competing against seven other phone bidders and multiple online suitors, including institutions and some of the nation’s leading book and manuscript dealers and collectors.
The book was found in the estate of a Tennessee man who was a direct descendant of Justice Marshall. His family tree also included Gen. Henry Dearborn and General Elias Dayton, along with distinguished Civil War soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Company president John Case likened the discovery of material from the estate to “finding a time capsule full of pivotal moments from American history” and noted that more objects from the estate will be sold in Case’s summer auction.
Justice Marshall’s personal copy of his biography of George Washington (second edition, 1832) reached $21,600 (est. $5,000-$7,000), and a 1799 letter from Washington to Marshall congratulating him on his first election to public office tallied $19,200 (est. $12,000-$14,000).
A George II silver sauceboat, which descended in the John Marshall family with oral history of having a connection to Washington, served up $11,040. It bore a coat of arms attributed to the Bassett family and likely belonged to Martha Washington’s niece, Fanny Bassett, who lived at Mount Vernon. John Marshall’s signed four-volume set of Plutarch’s Lives, published by James Crissy in Philadelphia, 1825, brought $18,600.
A full-length oil portrait of Marshall (above) hammered at $16,640. It is one of seven known portraits of Marshall by William James Hubard (Virginia, 1807-1862). All are nearly identical to the Hubard portrait currently in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.
Applause broke out in the saleroom when the only known lifetime painting of stallion Bonnie Scotland and groom Robert Green of the famous Nashville plantation and thoroughbred farm Belle Meade crossed the finish line at $48,000 (its top estimate). The artist was Herbert Kittredge, a promising equine artist whose career was cut short by his death in 1881 at the age of 28. Bonnie Scotland’s progeny included War Admiral, Man O’War, and Seabiscuit, and his descendants are still winning races today, including the 2014 Derby winner and 2016 American Horse of the Year, California Chrome.
“It was an especially significant painting because of the depiction of Robert Green, a slave at Belle Meade who stayed on as a paid employee after the Civil War,” commented Sarah Campbell Drury, Case’s vice president of Fine and Decorative Arts. “His likeness reminds us of the often-forgotten role of African-Americans to the sport of racing in the 19th century.”
The winning bidder, Belle Meade Plantation (now a house museum and historic site open to the public in Nashville) nosed out underbidders on the telephone and Internet, after launching a campaign among supporters and on social media to raise money to buy the painting.
Two museums competed against a dealer bidding by phone for a painting by William Frye (Alabama, 1822-1872) depicting an unnamed African-American man standing in front of an edition of the Louisville Commercial newspaper (known for its anti-slavery leanings). Despite some tears to the canvas, it hammered down to one of the museums for $15,000.
Twentieth-century fine and decorative arts met with avid interest, particularly a George Nakashima walnut credenza, which attracted eight phone bidders and lots of Internet interest, propelling it to $25,600 (est. $5,400-$5,800).
Pottery, a staple at Case, included one of the earliest pieces to surface attributed to David “Dave” Drake, an enslaved but literate artisan at the Lewis Miles Pottery of Edgefield, South Carolina. The double handled jar, inscribed “LM” and dated 1840, achieved $7,920 (est. $5,000-$7,000). Other Southern related objects included a James LaFever Tennessee stoneware jug, $3,840, and a John Fashauer Kentucky stoneware jar, $2,280.
The star jewelry lot of the auction was a 3.13-carat oval brilliant cut diamond ring, F color, VS1 clarity, with GIA report, which realized $36,000 (est. $24,000-28,000).
A Kirk Repousse pattern six-piece tea service including kettle sold above estimate for $11,040 (est. $8,400-$8,800), while a Baltimore coin silver Repousse Monteith bowl with scenic design hammered down at $4,096. A George III sterling epergne brought $6,912, and a Continental silver figural griffin jug climbed to $4,864.
Other interesting objects included a scarce lithographed tin advertising tray and four glasses from the short-lived Alabama Brewing Co. (Birmingham, 1897-1908), $2,816, and a W.T. and C.D. Gunter Jack Daniels No. 7 clear glass whiskey bottle, $1,920; a Western Union Model 2825 3-A ticker tape with stand, $5,376, and a .40-caliber Solomon Reed full stock percussion long rifle, $5,280.
For more information or to consign objects for a future auction, 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.