BEST OF 2023

January is a month for reflection and looking ahead. In that spirit, we are sharing twelve of our favorite pieces sold by us in 2023, a year in which we presented three major exhibitions with accompanying catalogs: An Eye For Excellence, flipbook, in January; By The People For The People: Fine American Folk Art, 1780-1940, flipbook and printed catalog, in May; and Important Shaker Design from a Private Collection, flipbook and printed catalog, in November. At the Delaware Show we offered Shaker masterworks and rarities purchased by us from a collector and recognized as the most important Shaker collection sold privately in a generation.  Earlier in the year we were honored to become the first dealer-specialist to offer American Folk Art at the prestigious American Art Fair in New York, and we also exhibited at the New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Association Show in Manchester, New Hampshire.

We have continued to maintain our position as a market leader, as one of the most active and consistent buyers of “the best of the best,” working closely with private and institutional collectors who avail themselves of our unique abilities, and a guarantee of authenticity and excellence that is the gold standard in the field backed by six decades of experience.  

Asa Ames (1823–1851), LaRay Marvin, Evans, Erie County, New York, 1849. Poplar, original painted decoration, together with a nineteenth-century English silk gauze shawl and an unmarked antique silver rattle, 26 x 9 x 6 inches. Incised on underside of base: “By A. AMES / EVANS NY. / JUNE 1849”

This life-size wooden figure of a baby carved in June 1849 by Asa Ames (1823–1851), is an extreme rarity in nineteenth-century American Art—a realistic sculptural portrait in neoclassical tradition. Ames’s unique figures depict members of the artists’ family, friends, and neighbors from the small town of Evans, New York, about 25 miles south of Buffalo. Including this figure, only three examples of Ames’s work remain in private hands.  In 1850 Ames was living in the home of Dr. Harvey B. Marvin, a physician and homeopath who was likely treating the ailing artist who died the following year. Signed and dated June 1849, this sculpture depicts the doctor’s seven-month-old son, LaRay Marvin (1848–after 1907).  Remarkably, this sculpture is documented in a daguerreotype of Ames posed among his sculptures, seated, and holding a mallet and chisel, working a block of wood, which has been carved with a profile strikingly like the artist himself. This masterpiece was sold by us from of our exhibition By The People For The People: Fine American Folk Art, 1780-1940 at the American Art Fair.    

Left: Underside of LaRay Marvin sculpture, incised “By A. AMES / EVANS NY. / JUNE 1849”. Right: Daguerreotype of Ames. Courtesy of John T. Ames, Austin, Texas.

Joshua Johnson or Girl with Strawberries
Joshua Johnson (circa 1763–circa 1824), Seated Girl with Basket of Strawberries in a Garden, Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1803–1805. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. Now in the collection of The Fenimore Art Museum.

The prominence of the basket of strawberries in this portrait relates it to Johnson’s famous likeness of Emma Van Name in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Joshua Johnson (circa 1763–circa 1824) is considered the country’s first professional African American portrait painter.  He was the son of a white man, George Johnson, and an unknown Black woman enslaved by a William Wheeler, Sr. A surviving bill of sale from 1764 reveals that Wheeler sold Joshua to George Johnson. George Johnson acknowledged Joshua as his son in a 1782 manumission order in which he agreed to free him once he had finished his apprenticeship to a Baltimore blacksmith, or when he turned twenty-one, whichever came first.

Little else is known about Johnson’s life until 1796, when he is listed as a portrait painter in the Baltimore City Directory. Two years later, he placed his first advertisement, describing himself as a “self-taught genius.” Another highlight from our exhibition: By The People For The People: Fine American Folk Art, 1780-1940, this portrait was acquired for The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, and became the first work by Johnson in their collection.  

Lift-Top Chest with Drawer, Probably Maine, circa 1830-1840. White pine, original hardware, original painted decoration, superb state of original preservation, height 27 ½ inches, width 37 ¼ inches, depth 16 ½ inches.

In terms of boldness of painted decoration, this is the finest among a group of three chests of related form and decorative technique that share common authorship. It’s incredible state of preservation make it a rare and special survivor. A new discovery from an estate in Middlebury, Connecticut, this chest was a highlight of our booth at the New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Association Show.

Acrobat on Flying Horse Weathervane, Probably New Hampshire, circa 1870. Iron, traces of original paint, height 22 ⅛ inches, width 42 ½ inches, depth 1 inch.

This famous weathervane represents a possibly unique form of a circus performer throwing an arrow atop a flying horse. It also exhibits unusual construction of sand-casting for the acrobat and horse as a single unit with the arrow separately formed and attached by screws which may suggests a local New Hampshire metalsmith. It was originally used atop the copula of a nineteenth-century barn on Elm Tree Farm in Francistown, New Hampshire.  We first sold this superb weathervane in 1983 to collector Ralph Esmerian; reacquired it in 2014 and again in 2023, and it sold from our Winter exhibition An Eye For Excellence.

Israel Mannesovitch (b. 1854), Paper cutwork or Shiviti, Albany, New York, circa 1900-1920. Cut paper, 10 ½ x 21 ½ inches, in a period walnut frame. Signed in ink in Hebrew lettering at lower center: “Israel Mannesovitch”

A rare example of American Judaica in the folk art tradition, this highly-sophisticated papercut replete with symbolic Jewish iconography, is one of three known examples made by Israel Mannesovitch of Albany, New York. Born in Imperial Russia in 1859, Mannesovitch immigrated to the United States in 1880, and by 1910, he was living on South Pearl Street, the hub of Jewish life in Albany, with Jewish-owned businesses, kosher meat markets, restaurants, synagogues, and other communal institutions.  The historic tradition of Jewish papercutting was brought to America by immigrants from the Galicia region of Imperial Russia, an area now divided between Poland and Ukraine. It was practiced exclusively by men of all trades and backgrounds who passed down the skill to their sons. Judaica from the Galicia region is known for its rich animal imagery. Here, a variety of animals are dispersed within a pattern of delicate tendrils, flowers, and geometric devices executed with graceful precision. The Tablets of the Law feature prominently at the top of the paper cut with the first words of the Ten Commandments inked in Hebrew lettering.  Sold from our Winter exhibition, An Eye For Excellence.

William Matthew Prior (1806–1873), African American Gentleman, Boston or possibly Cambridge, Massachusetts, circa 1845-1855. Oil on cardboard, 14 1/8 x 10 1/8 inches, in a period painted frame.

This is one of five published portraits of African Americans by William Matthew Prior (1806–1873) which constitute the only known group of Black sitters painted by an important American folk artist. This renowned group is considered a demonstration of Prior’s abolitionism. In his 1868 book of beliefs, The Empyrean Canopy, Prior writes: “Skin may differ; but affection dwells in white and black just the same. There is [no] justice in . . . slavery . . . being inconsistent with God’s government and inconsistent with our declaration and constitution as a nation.” This portrait was sold from our exhibition: By The People For The People: Fine American Folk Art, 1780-1940 at the American Art Fair.

This iconic and well-documented watercolor portrait by Dr. Samuel Addison and Ruth Whittier Shute ranks among the finest examples of the couple’s work remaining in private hands. Phebe Buxton (1785–1857) managed a boarding house at 39 Worthen Street in Lowell, Massachusetts for female workers of the Merrimack Manufacturing Company, the first of the major Lowell textile mills which opened in 1823. Boarding housekeepers were thought of as “a kind, matronly figure that cared for her boarding house as she would her own home, thinking of the mill girls as daughters…the keeper was also a businesswoman, responsible for keeping accurate accounts, and balancing ledgers, along with the more traditional duties of cooking and cleaning.”  The Shutes are listed in an 1832 Lowell City Directory as residing at Buxton’s boarding house, where they painted their highly acclaimed watercolor portraits of the millworkers.  Phebe Buxton was acquired by The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, and became the first work by the Shutes in their collection. 

Benjamin Youngs, Sr. (1736–1818), Wall Clock, Watervliet, New York, 1814–1815. Figured cherry, cherry, poplar, original hardware, original brass and iron works date stamped “1814,” original painted iron dial with faint signature “B. YOUNGS / WATERVLIET”, original hands, original weight. Height 48 ¼ inches, width at bottom of case 10 inches, which tapers to
9 ½ inches below hood, depth at case 6 ½ inches.

Clockmaker Benjamin Youngs, Sr. (1736–1818) was one of the earliest members of the Shaker community at Watervliet, New York, having converted to the faith soon after moving his family to an adjoining farm. Benjamin Youngs, Sr. came from a family of clockmakers and his brother, Seth Youngs, Jr. was the father of the well-known Shaker polymath, Isaac Newton Youngs (1793–1865).  The back of the dial with boldly painted inscription: “1815 / Made by Benj. Youngs / at Watervliet / in the 79th year of his age / 1815.”  This is one of a handful of surviving dwarf and wall clocks made in 1814-1815 and signed by Benjamin Youngs, Sr. While his other clocks have key-wound movements, this example has a thirty-hour mechanism wound by pulling on a ladder-style chain that lifts the weight.  It was sold from our exhibition Important Shaker Design from a private collection in our booth at The Delaware Antiques Show.   

 Joshua Bussell (1816–1900), West Gloucester Village of Shaker and Poland Village of Shakers,  Maine, circa 1880. Colored pencil and graphite on paperboard, 14 ¾ x 25 ⅝ inches. Inscribed in pencil: “West Gloucester Village of Shakers” and “Poland Village of Shakers.” Now in a private collection.

Joshua Bussell is renowned for his seventeen surviving drawings of Shaker villages created in two periods: 1845–1855 and 1880. His eight drawings from 1880, including this example, all depict the Maine communities of Alfred and Sabbathday Lake. This drawing and one other (depicting the Alfred community) are believed to be the only examples remaining in private hands. The inspiration for Bussell’s return to drawing at age sixty-four has been attributed to interaction with landscape artist Phares Fulton Goist (1841–1913) who visited the New Gloucester and Alfred communities in the winter of 1879-1880 to create illustrations for the 1880 publication History of Cumberland County. Goist portrayed New Gloucester from a prospect to the northwest, a hillside only a little higher than the village. In his closer view, Bussell rendered the buildings at New Gloucester with greater detail, recording the actual appearance of the buildings, carefully rendering each of them to document the changes made to the structures over the previous decades.  It sold from our exhibition Important Shaker Design from a private collection in our booth at The Delaware Antiques Show.

Child’s Windsor armchair, Nantucket, Massachusetts, circa 1780-1790. Mixed hard and soft woods, old or original dark green paint over gray paint, Height 27 ½ inches, width 12 ¾ inches, depth 9 inches. Now in the collection of The Nantucket Historical Association.

This is a masterpiece example of a child’s Windsor chair; the finest we have handled in over forty years as a dealer-specialist in American Windsor chairs. It is a beautifully conceived and faithfully scaled-down version of a classic Nantucket braced fan-back armchair exhibiting all the signature elements. It is related to full-sized armchairs in the collections of Winterthur and Colonial Williamsburg that are branded by the Nantucket Windsor chairmaker Charles Chase (1731-1813) and one of two closely similar child’s armchairs known to us, possibly of common authorship.  The only variation in this child’s armchair from typical full-sized counterparts is in the construction of the seat with its tailpiece carved from the solid, rather than being separately mortised. This feature may have been a concession to the reduced size of the chair.  We were pleased that this armchair was acquired by The Nantucket Historical Association.  

William Henry Harrison Hat Box
William Henry Harrison Band Box, American, circa 1840. Paste board, hand block-printed paper, lined with Pennsylvania newspaper, Height 17 inches, width 14 inches, depth 13 inches.

Owing to its beauty and rarity, being the only American band box with paper expressly designed for political purposes- the 1840 presidential campaign of General William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), considered a “holy grail” of American bandboxes. It is one of just six examples known to us, comprising five complete boxes and one fragment. The Whigs waged their campaign on personality differences after an opposition newspaper commented editorially that “Upon condition of receiving $2000 and a barrel of cider, General Harrison would no doubt to consent to withdrawal his presidential pretensions and spend his days in a log cabin on the banks of the Ohio.” This bandbox depicts the general in just this setting, with a barrel of hard cider leaning against the cabin wall, the side-wheeler “Ohio” in the river and a wounded veteran being made welcome by the general in shirtsleeves. It sold from our Winter exhibition, An Eye For Excellence.

Shaker Sewing Desk, Watervliet, New York, circa 1840. Cherry, white pine, original turned and threaded hardwood knobs, original yellow tinted finish. Height 42 inches, width 32 ¾ inches, depth 23 ¼ inches.

With an unparallelled level of refinement and economy of form , this sewing desk marks the height of perfection in Shaker decorative arts. A unique design, being a single unit, made in two parts, with the upper deck joined to the base by means of five delicately pinned tenons. The work surface with an applied tray edge. Its vertical orientation and neatly framed and paneled construction relate it to a small group of similar desks made at Watervliet, New York associated with the cabinetmaker Freegift Wells (1785–1871). It sold from our exhibition Important Shaker Design from a private collection at The Delaware Antiques Show.

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