Skinner sells the Atten collection: mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries
Review by Rick Russack, Photos courtesy of Skinner Inc
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – There was some nineteenth-century material, but not much, when Skinner sold the collection of Illinois collector and dealer Marion Atten, who died last year. She collected and sold in numerous salons and in her boutique furniture and accessories used in American and European homes of the 17th and 18th centuries. There have been few “targeted” sales of this material, perhaps since Skinner’s sale of the Roger Bacon collection in 1983 and Skinner’s sale of the Forke collection in 2019. Buyers have responded enthusiastically, many items far exceeding estimates.
Leading the sale, fetching $31,250, was an 18th-century Connecticut River Valley Hadley Chest. The collection included numerous tree plates and bowls, bellarmine pitchers, antique lighting, 17th century Bibles, numerous common stools, common chests, Pilgrim Century chairs, glazed earthenware, antique arms and armor and a wide variety of unusual small accessories. The October 14 sale was a ‘timed’ auction with a three-day live preview in the Skinner Gallery in Marlborough. The rough, over $510,000, exceeded the high estimate, so the shipper and Skinner were very pleased.
From the moment the catalog went live, the sale’s top favorite emerged in a Connecticut River Valley Hadley Chest that would fetch the sale’s highest price. Online bidding was over $11,000 the day before the sale ended, and the final price, $31,250, was almost four times the estimate. The early 18th century carved oak chest with one drawer had a characteristic flat tulip carving with the initials “MI” in the center panel. The fact that the carved top was a replacement did not deter bidders, who also accepted the other minor imperfections and finish.
Finishing at $21,250 was a two-drawer Plymouth County chest of drawers from around 1690. The two drawers sat beneath a geometric paneled front, with a double tombstone, carved sawtooth molding, and the chest had paneled sides and stile legs. He had been photographed in Luke Vincent Lockwood Colonial furniture in America and had been exhibited at the Van Cortland Mansion in the Bronx. It had last been sold at Sotheby’s in 2010, and Skinner’s catalog stated, “According to the catalog note at the last auction of this piece, only four other coffers from this group of examples from the county of Plymouth survive with the double arch arrangement of moldings on the center panel. Whether the top was original or an older replacement was debatable, but other condition issues were minor.
There were several other attachments. A circa 1675-1700 carved and joined oak sunflower cabinet, converted from a chest, made in or near Wethersfield, Connecticut, fetched $18,750. It had a molded top above a converted cabinet section with carved floral panels and turned and applied blackened half-baluster spindles. The upper part originally had a lift-top, which is now fixed, and the front has been transformed into a two-door cabinet.
Many pieces in the collection had solid provenances. For example, a carved oak sunflower chest with replaced hinges, also from the Wethersfield area, fetched $11,250. It had been illustrated and discussed in Wallace Nutting, Pilgrim Century Furniture and also pictured in Helen Comstock’s American furniture. It would have been displayed in Sturbridge Village in the Fenno House. A 17th-century carved oak bible box, which fetched $17,500, more than four times the estimate, was closely tied to a chair with Hingham’s story, which had been photographed and discussed in The Wrought Covenant: Source Material for the Study of Craftsmen and Community in Southeastern New England, 1620-1700.
A selection of ancient weapons and armor performed well, generally exceeding estimates. A German .73 caliber matchlock musket from the second quarter of the 17th century was the most attractive to buyers, as it ended up at $8,125. It was 42½ inches long, had a walnut stock, and a long flat lock with punched decoration. The selection of several early helmets was topped with a 17th-century “lobster tail” steel horseman’s helmet, which fetched $4,063. It had a layered tail, ear flaps and an adjustable brim. Another helmet, this one a 16th century Spanish iron and brass morion helmet, fetched $3,750. Morion helmets are the type of helmet that Spanish conquistadors, such as de Soto and Coronado, provided for their troops and are seen in many illustrations of those troops in Mexico. An early 19th century steel crossbow with brass inlay on a walnut frame was sold with a leather quiver, which contained four reproduction bolts (arrows). Two had carved wooden spikes, one was wrought iron and the other an unidentified metal. A deadly looking bunch, he made $531.
Period fittings are necessary to complete the feeling created by early furniture, and the Atten collection had a wide variety, from early light fixtures, wooden plates and bowls, to early leather-bound books, simple pewter glazed ceramics and bellarmines and more. While wooden plates abound, 18th century turned wood barber bowls do not. One of this collection had a wide brim and a simple, turned decoration. With a string attached to hang it, it sold for $4,688. Many wooden plates were sold individually or in groups of two and their price ranged from $136 to $800/900. A group of five leather-bound religious books, mostly from the 17th century, went out for $2,250, and another group of four, of the same age, fetched slightly less, $2,125.
Marion Atten’s collection included some unusual early lighting devices. One of the strangest was an early 19th century wooden candle lantern with wooden pins connecting the top and bottom. The candle itself was attached to a movable wooden platform which made it easy to light. Buyers reacted well, as it fetched $2,750, more than five times the estimate, and it turned out to be the most expensive of the lighting deals. A pair of bulbous pewter candlesticks, probably Dutch or English, dating from the 17th century, sold for $1,750. Several wrought iron rods, sold individually, cost around $500 each. A set of four 18th- and 19th-century wrought-iron betty lamps went out for $213. The first Tallow Candles spawn with some frequency, but Beef Tallow Chunks used to spawn them infrequently. A lot with five 18th-century tallow candles (the largest of which was 10 inches high) and several pieces of beef tallow fetched $875.
An exceptional 17th century German pale stoneware jug, just under 10 inches tall with an intricately molded bearded face and looped handle fetched $2,875. Other early ceramics included a small selection of bellarmine jugs and jars, bowls, etc. covered with enameled pewter from the beginning of the 18th century. An undecorated group of eight, with a soft white glaze, made $1,125. Five small 18th-century German stoneware jugs and a vase, sold together, fetched $875.
After the sale, Steve Fletcher was thrilled with the results. “We weren’t sure how it would turn out because this very old piece of furniture is of interest to a group of specialized buyers,” he observes. “But those who really like the first things were there for the preview and several had been there for a long time, taking a close look at things. We also received a lot of requests for more detailed conditional reports from buyers in line who weren’t able to show up in person. She had a wonderful assortment of vintage accessories, the kind of stuff you hardly ever see. It was nice to see that broad level of interest. Many individual things exceeded their high estimates and the gross total also exceeded the high estimate for the sale.I spoke with Marion’s son and he too was pleased with the results.
The prices shown include the buyer’s commission as quoted by the auction house. For more information, https://www.skinnerinc.com/ or 508-970-3211.