What recession?

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — When a diamond ring brings over $125,000, you have to wonder about gloom and doom economists. The 2008 downturn must have bypassed Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., on July 12-13.

The lead lot was a 5.5-carat diamond solitaire ring from the estate of Pauline E. Poffenberger, an Asheville benefactor. The diamond was near colorless and very, very slightly imperfect. Bidding quickly surpassed the presale estimate of $30,000-$60,000. The winning bid of $126,500 came from the house. All selling prices include a buyer’s premium.

Two other rings made the sale’s top 15. A slightly imperfect, near colorless 3.45-carat diamond set in a platinum mount with six accent diamonds far exceeded its high estimate ($12,000). It sold for $21,850. A third diamond ring from a private collector in Marietta, Ga., combined D color, the best, with SI1 clarity, slightly imperfect. It brought $10,580 (estimate $4,000-$8,000).

Riding a wave of strong sales for Florida artists and subjects was “Butterfly,” an oil on canvas by Eugene Savage (1883-1978). Savage was a Connecticut and New York artist, but his scene of a heroic Seminole woman guiding a dugout canoe through the Everglades could not have been more Florida.  Signed “E. Savage/’53” and lined with Masonite by the artist, the 21-inch by 26-inch painting sold for $16,100 (estimate $1,500-$3,000), possibly a new record for Savage.

Other paintings did well. A woman from Charleston with a large collection of paintings, firearms and bronze figures consigned the third and fifth highest selling lots. Both were the work of Charleston artist William Aiken Walker (1838-1920). A pair of Walker paintings, one depicting a male picking cotton and standing in a field, the other a female, measuring a scant 12 inches by 6 1/8 inches, brought $27,600. Walker painted portraits on a scale that dwarfed his more famous cotton field paintings. An oil on canvas portrait of “Miss Percy Ferguson, Greenville, Mississippi,” signed “WA Walker/1882” measured 50 inches by 30 1/4 inches.  Young Percy was the daughter of an aide to the victor of the first Battle of Bull Run, General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. Her portrait sold to a phone bidder for $19,550.

The painting on the cover of the 265-page catalog — a 24 3/4-inch by 19 1/8 inch oil on panel of a woman in a white summer gown arranging flowers in a vase — was consigned by the same South Carolina museum that brought in the Eugene Savage painting. Signed “J. Carolus” (Jean Carolus, Belgian, 1814-1897), the painting went to the phones for $14,950 (estimate $5,000-$10,000).

The leader among the 73 silver consignments was one of 19 lots of Tiffany silver. An entire page in the catalog was devoted to a Chrysanthemum sterling silver tea service. Five of the six matching pieces – the kettle, teapot, creamer, covered sugar and waste – carried marks for 1869-1891. The matching coffeepot was later, 1891-1902. The entire monogrammed set sold for $28,750 (estimate $15,000-$25,000).

For Confederate firearms enthusiasts the center piece of the sale was a rare Morse carbine (estimate $5,000-$10,000) serial number “601.” It was produced in Greenville, South Carolina, on machinery taken from the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Manufacturer George W. Morse invented the small, single shot carbine and produced approximately 1000 before his factory was destroyed by Sherman in 1964. Morse was a cousin of Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph. Morse’s carbine hit the target at $14,950.

Three sets of letters from President Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and General Winfield Scott to General Robert Patterson of Philadelphia, descended in the Patterson family. Of the four letters from Pierce, one was signed as president, a surefire collectible. The Pierce letters left the pre-sale estimate of $800-$1,500 in the dust of history. They sold for $14,950. In the pre-presidential Buchanan letter, the future president graciously declined a November 1856 dinner invitation to General Patterson’s home. The letter brought $2,415.

The top furniture lot was a two-piece period mahogany Chippendale breakfront. The British lot with arched and circular mullions in the four glazed doors opened at $4,000 and sold for $11,500 (estimate $4,000-$8,000).

Total hammer price with buyer’s premium came to $1,809,289. The next sale at Brunk Auctions is Sept. 6- 7 and features a collection of mid-century modern pottery. For more information, visit www.brunkauctions.com or call 828-254-6846.