East Dennis, Mass. – A rocking chair used by President John F. Kennedy at the White House sold at auction for $60,000 August 3. The chair was part of a prominent collection of the president’s personal items that were auctioned at Eldred’s, an auction house located just 11 miles from both the Kennedy family’s famous compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., and the Cape Cod National Seashore that President Kennedy helped establish.
In fact, a fountain pen used by Kennedy to sign the bill that created the National Seashore, part of a collection of 15 pens Kennedy used to sign some of the most important pieces of legislation during his time as president, including the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in October 1963 and the Racial Discrimination Act of 1962, was the top seller from the collection, fetching $72,000.
A letter opener and a page of sailboat doodles were some of the other items snatched up by collectors, for $5,937.50 and $8,750. Other items, including an autographed copy of Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage, a Democratic Party-themed silk scarf, an Inaugural Gala invitation sent to Frank Sinatra and an album of Kennedy family photos and memorabilia, sold for an average of $1,170.
“The auction provided a rare opportunity to buy some of the most iconic and historically important material pertaining to the late president,” said Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s. “It received a tremendous amount of interest before the sale and we are pleased with the results.”
The Kennedy material was sold as part of the firm’s three-day Americana and Paintings Auction, which also included American and European paintings, antique furniture and decorative art. The top seller from the sale was a whimsical scene of mermaids repairing sailing vessels by noted American folk art painter Ralph E. Cahoon, Jr., which sold for $156,000 on a $30,000/50,000 estimate. It is interesting to note Cahoon’s popularity soared when a host of society patrons, including Jacqueline Kennedy and Paul Mellon, began collecting his work in the 1950s and 1960s.
The sale included six other works by Ralph Cahoon, and seven by his wife, Martha Farham Cahoon, whose style is similar. Almost all the works by the couple sold over estimate, notably a smaller work depicting mermaids and sailors stranded on a raft by Ralph Cahoon, which sold for $18,000 on a $6,000/9,000 estimate, and a primitive portrait of a tiger by Martha Cahoon, which brought $3,900 on a $1,200/1,800 estimate.
“The Cahoon market seems to be back in a big way,” Eldred said. “It’s been quite awhile since one broke the $100,000 mark, so to see one end up at $156,000 was very encouraging.” Eldred also mentioned “The Lobster Pound”, a large oil on masonite by Ralph Cahoon, which sold for double its pre-sale estimate of $35,000/45,000, finishing at $90,000, a jump of almost $45,000 in value from when it was sold at Eldred’s for $46,000 in 2011.
Other top paintings include an enchanting view of a woman picking poppies along the shore of Capri by American artist Charles Caryl Coleman, who spent much of his career on the Italian island, which soared past its conservative $4,000/6,000 estimate to sell for $45,000, and “Boulevard de la Madeleine in 1905” by French artist Edouard Leon Cortes, which fetched $24,000 on a $10,000/12,000 estimate. J.J. Enneking’s “Mill Pond, Milton” and Clifford Warren Ashley’s view of Center Street, New Bedford both sold within estimate for $18,750 and $16,800.
Other highlights were diverse as the sale itself, which included everything from American Native piece to fire memorabilia to abstract art. “Most of the silver did really well. Chinese export had good participation. Rugs had a good day,” said Bill Bourne, vice president of the firm and head of its Americana and Marine Art departments.
Notable lots include a Maria and Santana Martinez blackware feather charger, which brought $2,040 on a $600/900 estimate, a set of six 19th Century hand grenade fire extinguishers, which sold six times over estimate for $3,120, and a vibrant green, white and black abstract titled “Augury” by New York artist Charles Green Shaw, which sold over estimate for $12,000. Top silver lots include a colonial American tankard, probably early 18th Century New York, and a set of four George III candlesticks. Both were from the estate of Minor Myers, Jr. of Mystic, Conn., one of the featured collections in the auction catalog. They brought $3,120 and $3,900.
In a collecting area that has been soft lately, Bourne commented on the significant number of Chinese Export lots that sold within or above estimate, including a pair of Rose Medallion poet vases and a Rose Mandarin punch bowl, both from private collections, which fetched $5,312 and $4,375 on $800/1,000 and $1,000/2,000 estimates.
One of the sleepers of the sale was a small Caucasian prayer rug, estimated at $200/400, that multiple phone and online bidders chased to $4,375. “The size and color of the field made it unusual and desirable, even in its damaged condition,” remarked Glen Krawczyk, head of Eldred’s Oriental Rugs department. Other top sellers include a large Kirman, which also sailed past its $1,000/2,000 estimate to finish at $7,500, and a room-size Boukara, purportedly a mate to a rug that was once in the White House, which met its $5,000 estimate.
Rounding out the sale was a significant number of traditional Americana pieces, many from the collection of Carl and Sonia Schmitt of Walla Walla, Washington, a highly-regarded group of American folk art acquired primarily at major New York auction houses and from leading antique dealers in the 1990s and early 2000s. Top sellers included a Ludovic Gavioli Company carved and painted band leader figure once installed on the organ at the Hippodrome Carousel in Revere Beach, Mass., which brought $18,000, and a cigar store Indian Princess attributed to Samuel Robb, which netted $16,800. A D.C. Muller & Bro. carousel lion and a rare horse, sleigh and rider weather vane attributed to J.W. Fiske, both from other consignors, were other top earners, selling for $20,400 and $21,600.
While furniture results were mixed, Bourne was pleased with the results on a Sheraton sideboard attributed to Thomas Seymour, which brought $21,600, and a Queen Anne highboy attributed to Hartford-area cabinetmaker Aaron Chapin, which sold for $9,000. Echoing a common refrain, Bourne said, “The dealer base of 20 or 30 years ago is gone, and the dealers that still exist are highly selective. They are buying for and competing against retail customers who, in many cases, want the look but don’t seem to mind if a piece is period or a reproduction. They want something clean, functional and ready to go.” Citing as an example, Bourne mentioned a contemporary Eldred Wheeler “Dunlap”-style tiger maple highboy that sold over estimate for $5,100 and a 1760 Connecticut example in cherry that brought only $3,500.
“It was a great few days with good-size crowds all three days,” Josh Eldred said. “The summer is fun because we get to see so many customers who have been coming to the auction for years, people who knew my grandfather and father, but this year the Kennedy material, the fire memorabilia and the Schmitt Collection attracted a lot of new bidders. Between this sale, our incredible Marine Sale two weeks ago and the material we already have in the works for the fall auctions, we really have a lot of momentum going into the last few months of the year. I’m excited to see what the rest of 2018 brings.”
The Robert C. Eldred Co. is New England's oldest established antiques and fine arts auction house, now in its third generation of ownership under the Eldred and Schofield families. In addition to its headquarters on Cape Cod’s historic Old King’s Highway in East Dennis, Mass., the firm also has an office at 5 Roosevelt Avenue in Mystic, Ct. Eldred’s conducts approximately 25 auctions per year encompassing Americana, paintings, Asian art, European decorative art, maritime antiques, sporting art and collectibles. It was recently named one of the top worldwide auction houses by Art + Auction and holds auction records across a wide range of collecting areas.
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1483 Route 6a
East Dennis, Massachusetts
Eldred's is New England's oldest established antiques and fine arts auction house. Approximately 25 auctions are held year-round encompassing Americana, Asian Art, Americana and European paintings, European decorative art, Maritime antiques, and collectibles.