On May 5, Toomey & Co. offered items from The Paul & Terry Somerson Collection of 20th and 21st Century Metalwork and Jewelry. This carefully curated, single-owner catalog sale drew on the largest private collection of American Arts & Crafts metalwork and jewelry. The auction achieved over $650K in 500 lots of a relatively niche collecting category.
The sell-through rate was an astounding 93% for The Somerson Collection and 84% of the lots that sold, including buyer’s premium, realized prices within or well above their pre-auction estimates. Bidding was international, but American private collectors and important institutions competed to secure the vast majority of the lots. This significant activity attests to the strong renewal of collecting interest in metalwork and jewelry by American Arts & Crafts makers.
Paul Somerson was a highly successful tech journalist and author in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2001, Paul and his wife Terry began collecting American Arts & Crafts metalwork and jewelry as well as Stickley furniture, art pottery tiles, and vintage photography. Paul eventually founded ChicagoSilver.com, a guide to Chicago’s renowned Kalo Shop and other Arts & Crafts makers. On May 25, 2018, Paul passed away unexpectedly at age 68. We were deeply saddened by his passing, but it has been an honor to represent The Paul & Terry Somerson Collection at auction.
“Toomey & Co. has a proud tradition of holding single-owner auctions with impressive results,” CEO Lucy Toomey said. “For The Somerson Collection, we drew on our background of handling important material in a thoughtful, strategic manner to maximize prices.” President John Toomey added, “The most surprising part of the sale wasn’t any one individual lot, but rather seeing the strength of the market for these items throughout the entire auction and at all levels.”
According to Vice President John Walcher, “This was the first ever single-owner auction primarily dedicated to silversmiths of the Arts & Crafts Movement in America.” Walcher oversaw the sale’s form and content with input from Senior Specialist Mike Hingston. The Somerson Collection was arranged mainly by regions of makers from the American Arts & Crafts movement, with an emphasis on Chicago silversmiths. The end of the sale focused on Mid-century modern and contemporary silversmiths working in jewelry design.
Walcher credited Paul Somerson’s curatorial discernment and avid scholarship to the success of the sale. “Paul was the consummate collector who saw each object in his collection as a true work of art, regardless of the size or rarity,” Walcher said. “Institutions and private collectors respected his eye and knew they were getting not only a great addition to their collection, but one with the Somerson provenance.” Hingston noted, “The strength of the sale is testimony to and confirmation of Paul’s superior judgment as a pioneer collector in this area. The diversity of material and makers reflected his confidence when confronted with unfamiliar objects.”
“After Paul’s sudden death last year,” Terry Somerson said, “John [Walcher] was immensely supportive, respectful, and professional. The decision to part with Paul’s treasured objects was difficult, but I knew it was for the best. I am pleased with the sale results and I cannot thank John Walcher, John Toomey, Lucy Toomey, and everyone at Toomey & Co. enough for their hard work in making it happen. I was surprised and obviously pleased by the strong prices that many of the pieces brought. They are an affirmation of Paul's deep knowledge and discerning eye. I’m especially gratified that some of the objects will be going to museums.”
Highlights from The Somerson Collection included several noteworthy auction results, with items by Chicago’s highly regarded Kalo Shop and other local makers. The top lot was a Kalo pendant necklace made of 14K yellow gold, blister pearl, and dog tooth pearl, which brought $20,000. Other Kalo necklaces included a sterling silver and blister pearl example that sold for $13,750 and a graduated pendant necklace in sterling silver and lapis lazuli that achieved $11,875. Matthias W. Hanck, who worked at the Kalo Shop, had a pendant necklace realize $10,000 and a necklace by Chicago’s Carence Crafters more than tripled its high estimate at $6,875.
Several Kalo metalwork lots also brought spectacular prices. A sterling silver salad bowl with applied handles and a 14K yellow gold fluted tapering vase both realized $11,250. A sterling silver parcel-gilt caviar bowl achieved $10,000 and a Streamlined flatware service for eight sold for $9,375. The Kalo Shop’s Norse Line pitcher brought $5,000 and a sterling magnifying glass with blister pearl reached $6,250. Two Kalo copper items exceeded their high estimates: a round tray sold for $4,687 and a Tulip letter holder brought $3,125. A sterling water pitcher by The Volund Crafts Shop, comprised of Kalo-trained, American Gothic artist Grant Wood and Kristoffer Haga, realized $4,687. In addition, a coffee pot by Isadore V. Friedman from Jane Addams’ Hull-House Shops in Chicago sold for $7,500 to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
American Arts & Crafts jewelry by makers in the Northeast saw heavy bidding interest. Results for Boston designers included: 14K yellow gold ladies rings with precious stones by Susan Oakes Peabody ($12,500), Edward Everett Oakes ($6,875), and Gilbert Burton Oakes ($6,875); a ladies bracelet by Margaret Rogers ($6,875); and a pendant for a necklace by Frank Gardner Hale ($4,687). New York designers also achieved high sale prices: F. (Frank) Walter Lawrence’s Flower Urn pendant necklace ($9,375) and Peer Smed’s Poppy brooch ($4,062).
Metalwork by non-Chicago makers in the Arts & Crafts style did quite well. Peer Smed’s sterling silver Calla Lily gravy boat sold for $11,250. A round bowl by Boston’s Mary Catherine Knight realized $8,125 and a porringer from Arthur Stone in Gardner, Massachusetts brought $5,625. Cleveland makers likewise had strong results: a pair of Carp and Seaweed bookends by The Rokesley Shop ($6,875); Jane Carson Barron’s enameled round dish ($3,125); and Mildred Watkins’ letter opener ($2,500), which went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well. Two Arts & Crafts makers from California set high marks: Porter Blanchard’s heart-shaped tray ($3,125) and Clemens Friedell’s set of 10 demitasse coffee cups and saucers ($1,750).
Mid-century modern and contemporary jewelry rounded out the sale with excellent prices. New York designers were in great demand: a Sam Kramer abstract Bird brooch ($5,000); an Arthur King brooch ($2,340); and a Modernist brooch by Adda Husted Andersen ($1,062). Two Maine designers surpassed their high estimates: Clifford Russell’s Bumble Bee pin/brooch ($1,875) and Ronald Hayes Pearson’s pendant necklace ($1,375). Finally, Navajo jewelry artist L. Eugene Nelson’s pendant brooch nearly quadrupled its high estimate, selling for $2,625.
Additional items from The Somerson Collection will continue to be offered through Toomey & Co. Auctioneers in future sales. The remainder of 2019 will include three Art & Design auctions, scheduled for June 9, September 15, and December 8. Our second-annual Tradition & Innovation auction of important works from the 19th century through the present is also scheduled for December 8. Last year, Tradition & Innovation had a 94% sell-through rate and fewer than 70 lots brought a combined $1.3 million. On October 6, we will hold an Interiors auction showcasing a wide range of fine art and 20th century design items.
Our next auction, Art & Design, will take place on June 9. This sale will be open to the public and held at Toomey & Co. Auctioneers, 818 North Boulevard, Oak Park, Ill. Preview will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. CDT starting June 3 through June 8, with extended hours on June 6 (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.).
Consignments are currently invited for upcoming auctions. Photos of items may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on past and upcoming auctions or to request an estimate, please visit toomeyco.com.