Sale of Gray heirlooms sets two records

From left, Andrew Brunk, Tom Gray and Robert Brunk at the conclusion of the March 29 auction. Photos courtesy Brunk Auctions

OLD SALEM, N.C. — “That was quite a ball game!” remarked one dealer at the conclusion of the sale of the Tom Gray collection March 29. It was an apt analogy. During the eight-hour, 560-lot sale conducted by Brunk Auctions, there were plenty of home runs, some surprising plays and a few new stats for the record books. 

The sale’s big home run came midgame when a private collector from Atlanta bought a North Carolina Chippendale cellaret for $165,200, a new record for the Southern form. (All selling prices include an 18 percent buyer’s premium.) Anne Gray, Tom’s late mother gave him the cellaret as a Christmas present when he was 16. Recent research has identified its maker: Micajah Wilkes, Roanoke River Basin, North Carolina, 1780-1795. One of the stars going into the sale, the cellaret carried a presale estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.

This was the second Southern furniture record broken by Brunk Auctions in the past two months. At the Feb. 20 sale they sold a circa 1820 walnut Swisegood corner cupboard from Forsyth County, N.C., for a record-high $120,750. 

Two framed lots did especially well, one a new record.

The Jeremiah Theus (1716-1774) portrait of young Amarinthia Elliot (1741-1822) of Charleston, S.C., was as alluring as Mona Lisa. Gray purchased the unsigned circa 1748 oil on canvas from Jim Williams while Williams was in prison for murdering his male companion, a story told in the best-seller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The 15 3/4-inch by 13 5/8-inch portrait sold to a phone bidder for $94,400 (estimate $30,000-$50,000), a new record for the artist.

Gray’s collection of shirred rugs hit four homers. Seth Thayer, a private curator from Northport, Maine, bought a 33-inch by 66-inch rare bias shirred rug of a large basket of flowers with floral sprays on homespun. From early to mid-19th century New England, the rug was $44,840 (estimate $5,000-$10,000). Thayer then added Tom Gray’s favorite item in the entire sale to his collection. A yarn-sewn and chenille shirred rug with the words “AUGUSTINE.W. PHILLIPS” across the bottom edge dominated the exhibition room. Probably from Maine, Thayer bought the 54 1/2-inch by 63-inch rug for $40,120 (estimate $10,000-$20,000). 

One of the sale’s biggest surprises came near the end of the day when an 1899 $10 banknote from Wachovia National Bank opened at $1,700, a rather high bid for a $250-$500 item. When the note and an unsigned blank Wachovia check sold to a floor bidder for $28,320, the audience gasped.

For more information on Brunk Auctions visit or call 828-254-6846.

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When sold in 1980, this oil on canvas portrait of Amarinthia Elliott, attributed to Jeremiah Theus, was titled, "Miss Elliott of Charleston, SC." That's when Jim Williams purchased it at C.G. Sloan's Auctioneers. Williams sold the painting to Tom Gray through an agent. The portrait sold to a phone bidder for $94,400 on March 29, establishing a new record for the artist.

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