It was standing room only for both days of Stephenson's Auctioneers' first antiques and fine art sale of the year, held January 1 and 2 at the company's suburban Philadelphia gallery.
Bidding was consistently strong throughout both sessions, which included decorative art and "smalls" on day one, and furniture and paintings on day two. The 714-lot auction cashed out with a robust total of just under $300,000.
Two items in the sale achieved an individual selling price of $19,555, resulting in a tie at the top-lot position of prices realized. One of the blue-ribbon lots was a William Mason Brown (American, 1828-1898) Hudson River Valley oil-on-canvas landscape that had come from a residence in Bucks County, Pa.
"Usually this artist's still lifes bring more than his landscapes, but this was a particularly lovely example that attracted a lot of presale interest," said Stephenson's owner, Cindy Stephenson.
Five phone bidders pursued the 21- by 29-inch work, which had been featured on the auction catalogue's cover. One of those bidders, a gallery owner who specializes in Hudson River Valley art, is the new owner of the coveted regional painting.
The other top lot of the sale - also obtained from the above mentioned Bucks County residence - was an elegant Steinway Model B ebony grand piano, offered with original receipt of purchase from the 1960s.
Bids flew in from all directions, with an Internet bidder playing the final chord at $19,555 against an estimate of $8,000-$12,000. "I found it interesting that out-of-state bidders didn't even blink at the potential shipping costs for the piano," Stephenson said.
Holy Redeemer Hospital in the Philadelphia suburb of Meadowbrook received a welcome windfall of approximately $20,000 thanks to a consignment of 15 pieces of Kittinger (Buffalo, New York) furniture.
"A young man had donated all of his mother's furniture to Holy Redeemer's thrift store, and they contacted us to sell it," Stephenson said. "The woman who runs the shop always calls us if something good comes in."
As it turned out, the furniture was very good, indeed. A sideboard sold for $4,890; while a secretary and sideboard each added $3,740 to the tally.
A bounty of beautiful antique silver and jewelry ignited a frenzy of Internet and phone bidding.
A circa-1900 Russian silver and gold cigarette case with the hallmark of Nicholai Kemper (St. Petersburg, 1898-1908) was adorned with names written in script and embellished with tokens that included a frog, pig, crown, German 50-mark note, and Masonic logo. Estimated at $300-$500, it sold online for $1,610.
Two substantial and particularly complete American silver tea and coffee services were offered, each making its estimate with ease. An early 20th-century set crafted by International Sterling served up a winning bid of $3,740; while a circa-1944 ivory-accented ensemble by Stieff closed at $4,600.
Stephenson said one of the many satisfied consignors to the New Year's sale was "a wonderful Irish woman from Montgomery County who didn't realise the value of some of her things. She was so excited and happy over the results."
Her consignment included a selection of hand-tied rugs - among them, a late-18th- to early 19th-century Tabriz that sold for $8,050 - and a pair of Sevres urns that were bid to $2,590.
Some consignments had travelled long distances to be included in Stephenson's New Year's event. Both an English secretary and an especially nice marble and champleve jewel box from a Florida residence captured individual winning bids of $2,875.
Stephenson said the most revealing observation that could be drawn from the sale's success was that quality estate items, if properly advertised and publicized, have every expectation of achieving fair market value.
"Neither the Steinway piano nor the Brown painting had a reserve, but they ended up being the auction's top lots," Stephenson said. "We could tell by the number of calls we received prior to the auction on just those two items that we were going to have busy sale.
We ended up having an excellent turnout at the gallery on both days, and with the addition of extremely active Internet bidding through LiveAuctioneers, it was a very pleasing way to start the New Year."
Stephenson's Auctioneers will conduct its next major sale of fine and decorative art in late spring.