ABERDEEN, Miss. – An all-original three-door mahogany bookcase by renowned American furniture maker R. J. Horner, sold for $22,425 March 17, 2012 at a sale held by Stevens Auction Company.
The circa 1890 bookcase boasted Atlas statue sides and curved glass on the center door. It was monumental in size – 5 feet tall and 84 inches wide. Many top sellers of the 275 lots that crossed the block carried the Horner name. His workshop on West 23rd Street in New York City produced some of the most beautiful – and most highly prized – furniture pieces of the period.
The bookcase was the highlight of the living estate of Brenda McCarthy of Tupelo, Miss. McCarthy’s estate contained antique furnishings and other items from the Memphis, Tenn., home of Margaret Polk, McCarthy’s mother-in-law’s sister. Polk was the fiancée of Capt. Robert K. Morgan, a pilot in the legendary B-17F Flying Fortress. His plane, the Memphis Belle, was so-named because he liked Southern belles, and Margaret Polk was a Southern belle.
Through her father, Oscar B. Polk, Polk was related to James Knox Polk, the 11th president of the United States. But her family did pretty well, too, as Oscar B. Polk was a banker, real estate developer, cotton broker and one of the largest landowners in Mississippi and Arkansas, where he presided over thousands of acres of cotton land, as his father did before him.
Polk built a stately, three-story Queen Anne home in Memphis and had it filled with furnishings custom-made especially for him by the R.J. Horner Company. Each piece was lovingly hand-crafted by Horner artisans from 1890-93. These pieces, plus many other furniture items and decorative accessories, were painstakingly transported to Aberdeen for the auction.
“It was a short sale, actually. We started at 10 a.m. and it was all over by 3 in the afternoon,” said Dwight Stevens of Stevens Auction Company. “We didn’t have a great number of lots, but what we did sell was big-ticket, bringing nice prices.” He added about 150 people attended the auction in person, and phone bidding was brisk. Fully half the lots drew phone bids.
Following are additional highlights from the sale. All prices quoted include a 15 percent buyer’s premium.
As stated, the name Horner was chanted frequently throughout the day. Pieces that did especially well included an all-original mahogany full-standing griffin sofa with carved back ($21,850), an oak parlor suite with detailed carving to include heads finely carved into the arms ($13,800), and a gorgeous mahogany library table with full body standing Atlas legs ($11,500).
Also by R. J. Horner: a mahogany full griffin slant-front desk with exceptional carving and a hidden drawer, all original ($10,925), an oak dining room table with full body griffins and four leaves, 125 inches long by 60 inches wide ($6,325); and a great mahogany library table with two drawers and a heavily carved band around the top and claw feet, 63 inches long ($5,175).
Yet more Horner offerings included a mahogany high-back bed with faces carved into the crown ($4,600), a mahogany bookcase with standing ladies on each side and ladies’ faces carved on the feet ($4,600), an oak sideboard with winged griffin crown and china cabinet top ($4,025), and a beautiful oak curved glass china cabinet with Atlas carved columns and claw feet ($3,450).
Furniture pieces not made by Horner featured a massive four-piece burl walnut half tester Aesthetic Movement bedroom suite with marble top, circa 1875 ($17,250), a mahogany banquet table, 16 feet 1 inch long with fanciful carvings, twist corner legs and a giant center leg ($6,325), and a primitive cherry corner cupboard with column front, circa 1820, 87 inches tall ($4,025).
Non-furniture lots included a mahogany pillar-and-scroll antique clock with a painted scene on the glass door and the original weights and winder, circa 1820 ($1,265), a four-volume set of books on the life of Robert E. Lee, by Douglas S. Freeman, published in 1948 ($1,150), and the only Confederate flag ever flown over Washington, D.C. – at a 1961 centennial ($1,150).
Rounding out the day’s top lots was a group of five Confederate bills, in denominations of $10, $20 and $100 ($1,035), a mahogany period Empire pumpkin base center table, circa 1840 ($1,380), a rare program sold as a promotion in 1939 at the premiere of Gone With the Wind ($805), and a 1906 book by Cyrus T. Brady, about Robert E. Lee and titled The Patriots ($460).
For more information, visit Stevens Auction Company.