Virginia blanket chest brings $99,000 at Case auction

An exceptionally rare and painted Wythe County, Va., blanket chest, crafted around 1800 and in a remarkable state of preservation, sold for $99,000 in a sale of Southern furniture, pottery and folk art held May 12 by Case Antiques. The sale was held at the Knoxville Convention & Exhibition Center in Knoxville, Tenn. Prices quoted include a 10% buyer’s premium.
The chest was the top lot in the sale. It boasted three painted panels, with dahlia flower and urn designs, plus two decorated circles on the top. This “dahlia” chest belongs to the earliest and most intricately decorated chests from the Wythe County group and descended through the Dutton family of Wythe County, Va.
“I thought the chest would be a strong draw, and it was,” said John Case of Case Antiques. “Strong, fresh-to-the-market merchandise will always do well, especially in a nationally advertised, cataloged auction.” Mr. Case said new records were set for rare forms of Southern furniture and pottery. “The surprise was also seeing how well some of the art pieces performed,” he observed.
But there were areas of concern and even missed opportunities, Mr. Case pointed out. “Aggressive estimates and reserves on some items dampened bidding,” he said. “It had a psychological effect we didn’t anticipate, since some of the items not reaching reserves sold later in the sale, or after the sale. We would also like to have seen increased attendance from the immediate regional market.”
Overall, he concluded, “We were very fortunate to have strong support from the Southeast, as well as the presence of folks outside the area. The results of this sale, in my estimation, demonstrate bidder selectiveness regarding Southern antiques. Some Southern furniture and pottery did very well, even exceeding estimates, while other Southern pieces of comparable quality were slightly soft.”
The sale drew a little over 200 registered online bidders. “While online bidding was a small minority in terms of total sales, it was an important factor in driving healthy bidding on the floor,” Mr. Case said. “Absentee and phone bidders factored heavily into the day’s gross. It was a spirited sale, from start to finish.”
In other highlights:
A fine and highly decorated redware pitcher attributed to the Cain pottery family of Sullivan County, Tenn., achieved $22,550. It was an auction record for a “Great Road” pottery form. The example exhibited elaborate use of manganese and yellow slip to decorate the exterior body of the pitcher; manganese ran in the interior. There were also inscribed sine waves around the midsection.
A classical bronze console table by Oscar Bruno Bach (1884-1957) rose to $29,700, a new auction record for a table by Bach. The signed piece had a matching bronze mirror with classical scenes. Mr. Bach was considered one of the most technically proficient metalworkers of the early 20th century.
A gorgeous desk and bookcase attributed to Jesse Needham of Randolph County, N.C., changed hands for $18,700. The beautifully appointed piece was the earliest dated piece from the Needham school and featured carved pinwheel candle drawers; desk interior shaped drawers; fluted document drawers; pitched pediment with dentil moulding; and relief carved floral decorations.
An historic oil-on-canvas Western landscape of Zion Canyon National Park in Utah, by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh (1853-1935), sold for $11,000, a record auction priced for a Dellenbaugh landscape. The artist spent the summer of 1903 painting Zion Canyon and the resulting paintings were exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
A rare North Carolina stoneware jar, stamped “N H Dixon” (for Nathaniel H. Dixon, 1827-1863, of Chatham County, N.C.), realized $13,200, a record auction price for the potter. Also, a Middle Tennessee two-handle jar, signed in script “G W Dunn” (George Washington Dunn) made $3,190; and a miniature jug by the potter Charles Decker, found in Washington County, Tenn., brought $2,750.
Several pottery pieces attributed to Greene County, Tenn., potter C.A. Haun were offered. A redware jug considered to be one of the finest surviving example of his work realized $13,200, while abother unsigned Haun jar sold for $7,425. Christopher A. Haun (1821-1861), was a Union sympathizer during the Civil War. He was captured by Confederate forces and hanged in 1861. He was also one of the most accomplished potters in Tennessee history.
A pair of pottery pieces by Jesse Vestal (b. North Carolina 1828, d. Virginia 1904) did well. One was a scarce stoneware jar, signed in script by the potter in 1880. It sailed past the high estimate of $2,800 to command $5,170. The other was a Virginia stoneware pitcher, also signed and dated in script (1865). The example is the only known signed Jesse Vestal pitcher. It made a respectable $4,840.
Rounding out the top lots, a framed portrait of President Andrew Jackson by an unknown artist (circa 1835) fetched $15,400; an East Tennessee long rifle, marked “E Bull” (for Elisha Bull) on the barrel, hit the mark at $9,900; a very early East Tennessee tin safe, with tiger maple drawer fronts, realized $10,450; a lovely East Tennessee tin safe, with candle and arch tins, reached $5,770; and the earliest known Tennessee Theorum, dated 1840 from Jonesborough, went for $2,090.
Case Antiques’ next big sale will be held this September, possibly at the historic Travelers Rest Museum in Nashville, Tenn. The heirs of Historic Glen Leven in Nashville will be selling a lifetime accumulation of Southern antiques at this important auction. There will also be a strong offering of Southern silver and furniture, with an emphasis on Middle Tennessee pieces, and more.
Case Antiques is a relative newcomer in the auction world, having conducted its first sale just last year. Watch the website for details on the upcoming fall auction: Quality consignments are always being accepted for future sales. To consign an item, estate or collection, you may call them at (865) 558-3033. The e-mail address is [email protected]