Brunk Auctions travels to Old Salem to sell Tom Gray’s Americana, Mar. 29

A little more than a yard wide, Tom Gray describes this Connecticut Chippendale desk and bookcase as "tiny." It was a piece his mother, Anne Gray, always wanted. Gray purchased it from Jeffrey Tillou Antiques, who obtained it from a family that owned it for 150 years. Estimate: $30,000/$50,000

A little more than a yard wide, Tom Gray describes this Connecticut Chippendale desk and bookcase as "tiny." It was a piece his mother, Anne Gray, always wanted. Gray purchased it from Jeffrey Tillou Antiques, who obtained it from a family that owned it for 150 years. Estimate: $30,000/$50,000

OLD SALEM, N.C. – “It’s about the biggest thing North Carolina has seen in terms of Americana.” That’s Tom Gray’s assessment of the auction at Salem Academy March 29 in which his near life-long collection of American antiques plays a starring role. Almost every item from his home, the 1787 Traugott Bagge House at Old Salem, will be sold to the highest bidder. Before he relocates to his furnished penthouse at Carolina Beach, Gray wants to do something out of the ordinary: watch the dispersal of his estate. Brunk Auctions, Asheville, N.C., is conducting the sale for Gray.

Gray was born into a family that encouraged the preservation of our country’s most treasured artifacts. His cousin, Frank Horton founded the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Gray later served as the museum’s vice-president for development and chair of its board of directors. He studied art history at Duke University and obtained a master’s degree in early American culture through the Winterthur program at the University of Delaware. With his mother, Anne Gray (1921-2003), Gray co-founded the Toy Museum at Old Salem. The family fortune descended from Gray’s great-uncle, Bowman Gray Sr., former president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and builder of Graylyn, North Carolina’s second largest home after Biltmore.

Every object in the sale has a personal story directly connected to Gray, his mother, cousin, great-uncle or the Moravians who settled in Forsyth County. Many antiques in the sale were Christmas and birthday presents from his mother.

When Tom Gray was 8, his mother sent him to Old Salem with $385 to buy a child’s desk from Frank Horton. “It fit me to a tee,” said Gray. He later sold the desk when he discovered that its base had been replaced. In 1983, Gray bought a duplicate of his first antique, a New England Queen Anne child’s desk – this one with its original base. That desk is in the March 29 sale with a $4,000-$6,000 estimate.

The engraving, “A View of Savannah,” not only shows the Moravian settlement in Savannah, Ga., in 1734, but Gray used the design of the housing lots as a model for his own backyard garden. The engraving is one of 11 known copies, only two of which are in private hands. Savannah was the first settlement for the Moravians in the New World. From there they migrated to Maine, then Pennsylvania and finally to North Carolina. The engraving is estimated at $50,000-$70,000.

Savannah played a prominent part in the story behind the Jeremiah Theus (1716-1774) portrait of young Amarinthia Elliot (1741-1822) of Charleston, S.C. The unsigned oil on canvas, circa 1748, shows Amarinthia holding a sprig of blue cornflowers. Gray first saw the painting in 1974 when he was given a tour of Mercer House in Savannah by then-owner Jim Williams. Williams was later convicted of killing his male companion, a story told in the best seller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Gray later purchased the painting through an agent while Williams was in prison. Accompanying the portrait, estimated at $30,000-$50,000, is the 1984 bill of sale on Mercer House stationary.

The photographs of the Connecticut Chippendale desk and bookcase on page 58 of the sale catalog make it look larger than it is, said Gray. “My mother dreamt of owning a tiny Connecticut desk and bookcase. When she died in 2003, I bought it just because I wanted to fulfill her dream.” Recent research has established that the maker is probably Calvin Willey of the Colchester area with construction dating to 1785-1795. Its most dramatic feature is the boldly shaped broken-arch pediment with carved fylfot rosettes. The cherry desk/bookcase, which is 85 3/4 tall by 38 inches wide by 20 inches deep, is estimated at $30,000-$50,000.

The Shelton sisters, Mary and Eliza, were noted basket makers that moved to Bethania, Forsyth County, N.C., between 1850 and 1860. The 1910 U.S. Census listed each one as “basket maker at home,” a noteworthy detail since rarely are basket makers documented. Gray collected five Shelton baskets of varying sizes, three in excellent condition. All five are for sale as one lot with an estimate of $10,000-$15,000.

The North Carolina Chippendale cellaret in the sale was given to Gray, now 62, as a Christmas present from his mother when he was 16. “It is one of the top pieces in the sale,” said Gray. “What’s so rare is its identical mate is in MESDA.” Like the Connecticut desk and bookcase, recent research has led to the identity of the cellaret maker. It is attributed to Micajah Wilkes, Roanoke River Basin, N.C., 1780-1795. In excellent condition, it is expected to bring $40,000-$60,000.

Of the 560 lots in the sale, Tom Gray has a favorite. He describes the Augustine W. Phillips yarn sewn and chenille shirred rug as “absolutely incredible, a tour de force, museum quality.” Gray purchased the rug in 1993. Probably from Maine in the early to mid-19th century, it had previously sold at the Edgar and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch sale at Sotheby’s. Shirred rugs like this one (est. $10,000-$20,000) came “way before hooked rugs,” said Gray.

The sale of the Tom Gray collection will take place at the Fine Arts Center at Salem Academy and College in Old Salem, at 10 a.m. Eastern on March 29. Previews are March 28 from noon to 7 p.m. and two hours before the sale.

“Many people are very excited about the opportunity this sale provides,” said auctioneer Bob Brunk.

For details on Brunk Auctions visit www.brunkauctions.com or call 828-254-6846.View the fully illustrated catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet during the sale at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.

Click here to view Brunk Auctions’ complete catalog.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


Surveyor Noble Jones is credited with the design of the plat for the new colony of Savannah. The 1734 engraving was produced by Peter Gordon Fourdrinier. One of only 11 known copies, this 21-1/8" X 26-3/8" rare and important engraving is estimated at $50,000/$70,000.

Surveyor Noble Jones is credited with the design of the plat for the new colony of Savannah. The 1734 engraving was produced by Peter Gordon Fourdrinier. One of only 11 known copies, this 21-1/8" X 26-3/8" rare and important engraving is estimated at $50,000/$70,000.


When sold in 1980, this portrait of Amarinthia Elliott attributed to Jeremiah Theus was titled, "Miss Elliott of Charleston, SC." That’s when Jim Williams purchased it at C.G. Sloan’s Auctioneers. Williams, noted for his inclusion in the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, sold the painting to Tom Gray through an agent. The portrait carries a pre-sale estimate of $30,000/$50,000.

When sold in 1980, this portrait of Amarinthia Elliott attributed to Jeremiah Theus was titled, "Miss Elliott of Charleston, SC." That’s when Jim Williams purchased it at C.G. Sloan’s Auctioneers. Williams, noted for his inclusion in the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, sold the painting to Tom Gray through an agent. The portrait carries a pre-sale estimate of $30,000/$50,000.


These Shelton baskets were woven by sisters Mary (1837-1921) and Eliza (1845-1933) of Virginia. They family moved to Bathania, Forsyth County, North Carolina between 1850 and 1860. In oak splits on bentwood frames, the five Shelton baskets are expected to bring $10,000/$15,000.

These Shelton baskets were woven by sisters Mary (1837-1921) and Eliza (1845-1933) of Virginia. They family moved to Bathania, Forsyth County, North Carolina between 1850 and 1860. In oak splits on bentwood frames, the five Shelton baskets are expected to bring $10,000/$15,000.


This 36" X 20 ½" X 15 ¼ "walnut North Carolina cellaret (est. $40,000/$60,000) with single board top, line inlay, molded edge and light wood beading, is attributed to Micajah Wilkes of Roanoke River Basin, North Carolina, 1780-1795.  The cellaret was photographed for an article on Tom Gray’s home in The Magazine Antiques, December 1997.

This 36" X 20 ½" X 15 ¼ "walnut North Carolina cellaret (est. $40,000/$60,000) with single board top, line inlay, molded edge and light wood beading, is attributed to Micajah Wilkes of Roanoke River Basin, North Carolina, 1780-1795. The cellaret was photographed for an article on Tom Gray’s home in The Magazine Antiques, December 1997.


Colors are bright on this early to mid-19th century chenille shirred rug that is Tom Gray’s favorite piece in the sale. At 54 ½" X 63" it makes a statement! It is illustrated in American Hooked and Sewn Rugs and a copy of the 1985 book accompanies with the rug (est. $10,000/$20,000).

Colors are bright on this early to mid-19th century chenille shirred rug that is Tom Gray’s favorite piece in the sale. At 54 ½" X 63" it makes a statement! It is illustrated in American Hooked and Sewn Rugs and a copy of the 1985 book accompanies with the rug (est. $10,000/$20,000).


Tom Gray purchased this Queen Anne child’s desk (est. $3000/$6000) from Elliot and Grace Snyder Antiques, in 1983. It is a duplicate of the first antique he ever owned. From New England, 1730-1750, it measures 35 ¾" X 30 ¼" X 16 ½."

Tom Gray purchased this Queen Anne child’s desk (est. $3000/$6000) from Elliot and Grace Snyder Antiques, in 1983. It is a duplicate of the first antique he ever owned. From New England, 1730-1750, it measures 35 ¾" X 30 ¼" X 16 ½."