Bonhams offered American Furniture & Decorative Arts on Jan. 22, 2009, in its first New York City auction dedicated to the collecting area. The auction featured more than 300 lots and resulted in a sale total of nearly $2.3 million. Excitement over the Warner Bros. Studios collection of 15 pieces of furniture by noted New York cabinetmakers Herter Brothers was evident in the standing-room-only crowd that gathered at Bonhams’ Madison Avenue salesrooms.
“It was especially fitting that Bonhams was chosen to market this collection – thought to be one of the finest studio collections available – as these handsome pieces had previously been offered and sold in 1942 at our legendary auction of the contents of Thurlow Lodge,” said American Furniture Dept. Director Brooke Sivo.
Bidders from all parts of the U.S. attended the Madison Avenue sale and other clients competed via telephone – many with the hope of owning one of the iconic Herter Brothers pieces, others simply curious as to who would have the fortune of doing so.
One of the most highly-desired lots was an American Renaissance parcel-gilt, carved, inlaid and ebonized bedstead that was commissioned for the first floor master bedroom at Thurlow Lodge – the fabled residence of former California governor Milton Slocum Latham, in Menlo Park, Calif. The bed is a seminal work by the New York firm and is considered by many scholars to be the finest American bedstead known to exist in the fully developed American Renaissance style. After an exciting round of bidding, the lot sold within estimate for $326,000.
An American Renaissance parcel-gilt, carved and ebonized Herter cabinet, also from the bedroom suite, greatly exceeded expectations. The desirable lot, adorned with masks and foliate carving, nearly doubled its pre-sale estimate of $120,000, with a final price of $230,000.
Additional pieces from the striking ensemble also took top lot positions – such as the massive mirrored Herter Brothers dresser which fetched $103,700, and an exceptional shaving stand which drew $61,000 after competitive bidding.
A fine American Renaissance walnut buffet commissioned for the billiard room of the Latham residence also surpassed expectations. The massive piece drew as much pre-sale attention for its commanding size as it did for its ornate carving, bringing $194,000 against a top estimate of $120,000.
The pieces commissioned for Thurlow Lodge continued to dominate the top lot list with two pieces created for the first floor parlor of the residence sparking fierce bidding. A rosewood and maple music cabinet brought $85,400 and a folio stand fetched well over its top estimate of $60,000, also selling for $85,400.
Herter Brothers collectors also vied for American Aesthetic works commissioned in 1878 for the Nob Hill residence of railroad magnate Mark Hopkins. In particular, pieces created for the salon of the mansion drew serious interest. Among these, a unique inlaid and carved rosewood Herter Brothers center table executed in the Japanese taste captured bidders’ attention, fetching $97,600. Additionally, a secretary cabinet from the same suite brought $91,500.
Max and Judy Foote of Louisiana, avid collectors of important American Renaissance works by Herter Brothers and their contemporaries, took full advantage of the event, acquiring several pieces from the Thurlow Lodge bedroom suite, as well as the coveted rosewood center table from the Hopkins’ Nob Hill mansion. The couple views these pieces as beautiful as well as functional and collect with the goal of incorporating the furniture into their home’s masterfully recreated 1870s environment.
“Having personally known this collection for nearly 20 years, it is gratifying to see the pieces come full circle,” states Bonhams New York Director Jon King. “Bonhams, as well as Warner Bros. Studios, is very pleased to see these pieces pass on to collectors possessing a true love of the Herter Brothers’ level of craftsmanship.”
The Herter Brothers lots were not the only draw of the afternoon – early American pieces also wowed auction goers.
A very fine Federal carved mahogany and caned settee attributed to Duncan Phyfe or one of his contemporaries drew a copious amount of pre-sale attention. Its many unusual characteristics and fine execution inspired bidding, the lot sold for $85,400.
A Chippendale carved cherry tall case clock from the fourth quarter of the 18th century also piqued bidders’ interest. Made by Squire Millerd, a Captain for the American Army during the Revolutionary War, the clock’s case features a convex shell carved with twelve outer lobes and eight inner petals, the piece brought $47,500.
Also exciting collectors was a third quarter 19th century American Renaissance walnut astronomical regulator by E. Howard & Co. of Boston, Mass. Carrying a top estimate of $18,000, the lot touched off frenzied bidding, bringing more than double its estimate with a final price of $52,460.
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