Sale of Gray heirlooms sets two records

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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