Brunk’s sale of Griffin Collection puts spotlight on Georgia antiques

Meaders family corner cupboard. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

Meaders family corner cupboard. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The marriage of Florence Phillips and Bill Griffin “was built on kindred interests in nature and relics from the past” – expressive words from Florence Griffin’s 2008 obituary. The Griffins were devoted to each other and to the history of Georgia, their native state. Between 1945 and the 1980s this remarkable couple accumulated an exceptional collection of Southern furniture, silver, pottery, books, watercolors and prints. The sale of one of the finest collections ever offered by Brunk Auctions will be conducted on May 30, with Internet live bidding provided by LiveAuctioneers.com.

The Griffins “traveled the state tirelessly and enjoyed becoming friends with farmers, potters, dealers and pickers, looking for the often neglected artifacts of early Georgia and the South,” wrote William Griffin, Jr. in the frontispiece for the 185-page catalog. His father, William “Bill” Griffin Sr., who died in 2002, took meticulous notes on the family history of most everything they found.

In 1977 the Griffins acquired one of the sale’s premier items: an 1810-1830 Georgia cellaret or liquor stand. When they removed the 41-inch by 25¾ inch by 15-inch cabinet from a home in Upson County, Georgia, they found Confederate currency strapped to the bottom of the case. It was the first time in the 20th century that the cellaret had been moved from the family home. It and many of the other treasures in this 728-lot sale were featured in the 1983 Atlanta History Center exhibition titled Neat Pieces – The Plain Style Furniture of 19th Century Georgia. The presale estimate on the cellaret is $30,000-$50,000.

Another item from the Neat Pieces exhibition was a Georgia walnut corner cupboard (est. $10,000-$15,000) that descended in the Lambert family of Habersham County. The cabinet was a wedding gift to Mattie Lambert and John Milton Meaders of White County, circa 1873-1874. The Meaders initiated a pottery-making dynasty that put White County on the map. The Griffins bought the 1850-1860 cabinet in 1982.

Twenty lots of Meaders pottery – by Arie, Edwin, Lanier, Cheever and Wiley – are included in the sale. But it is the Griffin’s 20 pre-Civil War South Carolina jugs, jars and a pitcher from the Edgefield District that takes this collection to the stratosphere. The piece to watch is an 11-inch pitcher with white loop slip decoration attributed to Collin Rhodes. Found in a flea market in 1977, it is estimated to sell for $2,000 to $4,000.

The Griffins collected 14 huntboards or slabs, a rare Southern form. All 14 are in the sale. The first huntboard to cross the block was made entirely of yellow pine with early red paint, cut nail construction and tall tapered legs. It is attributed to William Bennett of Franklin County, Georgia. Its presale estimate is $8,000 – $12,000. The other huntboards, including two illustrated in Neat Pieces and estimated to bring $10,000-$15,000, are scattered throughout the one-day sale.

In their passion for history, the Griffins could not neglect paper. Books, maps and prints abound. Notable examples include:

The first published map of Georgia was contained in Reasons for Establishing the Colony of Georgia, With Regard to the Trade of Great Britain, the Increase of Our People, and the Employment and Support it will afford great Number of our Poor, as well as foreign persecuted Protestants, a book published in 1733 by Benjamin Martyn (est. $5,000-$10,000).  

British-born artist John Abbot (1751-1840) immigrated to Georgia in 1776 and faithfully recorded the flora and fauna of the Savannah River Valley. In the sale are seven of his watercolors of birds in Burke, Chatham and Bullock Counties including a bald eagle (est. $25,000-$40,000), a sparrow hawk (est. $20,000-$40,000) and a canvasback duck (est. $20,000-$30,000). The Griffins purchased all seven from a group that had purchased the collection at Christie’s New York in 1980. Bill Griffin was an amateur ornithologist and a charter member of the Georgia Ornithological Society founded in Atlanta in 1936.

Florence Griffin avidly researched the history of Georgia’s plants and collected some of the world’s finest antiquarian plant books. Included in her collection is John Gerarde’s The Herball or General Historie of Plants, Very much Enlarged and Amended by Thomas Johnson, Citizen and Apothecarye of London, published in 1632 (est. $2,000-$4,000).

There are 20 lots of Historic Staffordshire transferware in the collection, depicting exceptionally rare rural Southern scenes like Riceborough, Georgia, and Columbus, Georgia. One blue transferware platter represents the entire state of Georgia. In its center is a classical domed structure with “Georgia” printed below surrounded by a petal and floral border (est. $2,000-$4,000).

The only Georgia portraits in the sale are of Robert Ransome and Elizabeth Ware Fullwood Billups by noted folk artist Edwin B. Smith (active 1815-1832). Both paintings are oil on canvas, circa 1827. Robert’s portrait with rolling hills, hunters and dogs in the background is estimated at $30,000-$50,000; Elizabeth has black drape behind her image (est. $12,000-$18,000).

Special half-day seminars on May 28 and 29 will precede the sale. Among the leading Southern scholars to participate are Rudy Mancke, Jay Williams, Ashley Callahan, Charlotte Crabtree and John Burrison. Deanne Levison and Sally Hawkins, longtime friends of the Griffins. The experts will provide recollections and remembrances. A private preview, reception and color catalog are included in the $65 cost of attending the seminars.

For information on any lot in the May 30 sale or to inquire about attending the seminars, 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 at www.liveauctioneers.com.

View the fully illustrated catalog and register to bid absentee or live via the Internet as the sale is taking place by logging on to www.LiveAuctioneers.com.

Click here to view Brunk Auction’s complete catalog.


ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE


Huntboard from Franklin County, Ga. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

Huntboard from Franklin County, Ga. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

Fine Georgia cellaret, original finish. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

Fine Georgia cellaret, original finish. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

One of seven rare John Abbot watercolors. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

One of seven rare John Abbot watercolors. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

Early Georgia portrait of Robert Billups. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

Early Georgia portrait of Robert Billups. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

Edgefield slip-decorated pitcher. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.

Edgefield slip-decorated pitcher. Image courtesy Brunk Auctions.