Two Days of Americana Auction Brings $1.5 million at Freeman's
Freeman’s November 13 American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts auction and the November 14 annual Pennsylvania Sale brought $1.5 million. Highlights from the two days included a Collection of American Indian Arts with provenance, a manuscript archive of ransom letters, and a one-of-a-kind mechanical bank. The centerpiece of the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts sale was the rare Coasting Bank, which soared past its initial estimate of $30,000 to achieve $266,500. Found in an attic in Scotland, Freeman’s was asked to sell the bank after sister auction house Lyon & Turnbull, located in Edinburgh, determined the bank was American. “We knew that American collectors would be extremely interested in this mechanical bank, and Freeman’s was the better fit to sell it,” said Lyon & Turnbull specialist Douglas Girton. The Coasting Bank sold at Freeman’s is the only known example its kind and is attributed to well-known designer, Charles A. Bailey (1848-1926) for J.& E Stevens Co, of Cromwell, CT. “We were thrilled with the price the Coasting Bank achieved. It came to us in very good condition, and it caused quite a stir among collectors,” said Freeman’s Americana Department Head Lynda Cain.
American Indian artifacts also drew competitive bidding on November 13. Amassed during the late 1940s and early 1950s in an effort to preserve and document the Lakota people and their crafts, ‘The Luther R. & Frances T. Zehner Collection’ featured beadwork, tools, pottery, and personal items owned by survivors of The Battle of Little Bighorn as well as photographs by Frank Bennett Fiske, known for documenting the everyday lives of the Sioux near Fort Yates, ND. The stand out lots from this private collection were two portfolios with eighty-five photogravure plates after Edward S. Curtis, printed by John Andrew & Son, which sold for $74,500 and a rare Lakota Winter Count, circa 1880, that brought $32,500.
At the Pennsylvania Sale on November 14, the most unusual lot to be sold at auction was a manuscript archive of original ransom letters from the kidnappers of Charley Ross. Considered to be the first recorded kidnapping for ransom in America, four-year-old Charley Ross was taken from the front lawn of his parents’ home in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in July 1874. Several days later, the kidnappers sent the first of 23 ransom letters to his father demanding $20,000 for Charley’s return. The young boy was never found and the kidnappers were killed four months later. The story of Charley Ross was recently chronicled in a book by Carrie Hagen entitled, "We is Got Him," which is an actual line taken from the first letter.
“I was stunned to learn of this discovery. The fate of Charley Ross is one of history's mysteries…these letters held Philadelphia captive during the summer of 1874…To hold them is to hold a heartbreaking, terrifying piece of Americana,” said Hagen. The Charley Ross letters went to anonymous bidder for $20,000, the same amount as Charley’s ransom.
- Lot 285 - $266,50 An extremely rare painted cast iron and lead mechanical “Coasting Bank,” design attributed to Charles A. Bailey (1848-1926) for J. & E. Stevens Co., Cromwell, CT, circa 1884
- Lot 85 - $74,500 Two portfolios with 85 photogravure plates after Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), printed by John Andrew & Son, Boston, MA, 1907-1930
- Lot 58 - $31,500 Rare Lakota Winter Count (calendar), circa 1880, depicting dates from 1822 to 1881
- Lot 46 - $21,250 1853 silver Franklin Pierce Indian Peace Medal
- Lot 117 - $16,250 Centerpiece of the 1st Battalion, 2nd New Hampshire Militia Regiment, late 18th century
- Lot 549 - $25,000 Cherrywood music stand, Wharton Esherick (1887-1979), Malvern, PA, dated “1962”
- Lot 432 - $25,000 Walnut tall case clock, Edward Duffield (1720-1801), Philadelphia, PA, circa 1765
- Lot 513 - $21,250 Rare diminutive painted and decorated stepback corner cupboard, inscribed “Jacob Orwig” and “Elizabeth Orwig” and dated “1861,” possibly York County
- Lot 632 - $20,000 (Ross, Charley.) Manuscript Archive of the Original Kidnapper(s)’ Ransom Letters, Philadelphia, etc. July 3-November 26, 1874
- Lot 493 - $15,000 Chippendale inlaid walnut Schrank, Pennsylvania, dated “1785”