This week our pick is Lot 47, among the selection of pieces from the estate of George “Frolic” Weymouth at Big Bend. Frolic had a passion for nature and the arts, and founded the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art. The marriage of these two interests is embodied in his enthusiastic collection of turtle decorations, which is represented in this sale by Lot 47, a leather turtle foot rest from the early 20th century. Coming in at 22 inches long, this stately reptile would be a handsome addition to any study or library. Lot 47 is estimated at $100 – $200, and will be available in our upcoming July 14th special auction.
Our pick this week comes out of the collection of George “Frolic” Weymouth. Lot 87 is a Southern landscape painted by Clifford Warren Ashley and is in untouched original condition, retaining its original frame. Ashley studied alongside N.C. Wyeth and later under Howard Pyle in Wilmington, DE. Ashley was also a respected knot expert, and is the author of the expansive Ashley Book of Knots. This excellent example of Ashley’s work will be offered in our July 14th special auction and is estimated at $4,000 – $6,000.
We are excited to offer pieces from Big Bend, the period home and farm of George “Frolic” Weymouth in our upcoming July 14th special auction. Frolic was passionate about art, both as the founder of the Brandywine River Museum and as an artist himself. Our pick of the week is Lot 79, Frolic’s personal easel made by Winsor & Newton, the esteemed British manufacturer of quality artist supplies. The company was established as a partnership between an artist and a scientist, and since 1832 have been pioneers of the highest standards in art materials, including the first screw cap mechanism for collapsible metal tubes, and Queen Victoria’s favored Series 7 kolinsky sable water color brush. Lot 79 is estimated at $300 – $500.
DOWNINGTOWN, Pa. — Pook & Pook Inc. maintained its stellar sales record with its May 20 Firearms and May 22 Native American material auctions. The sales, which generated sales percentages of 97.7 percent and 99 percent, respectively, came in solidly towards Pook’s projected high estimates and presented bidders with many exciting moments and bidding opportunities.
DOWNINGTOWN, Pa. — Pook & Pook, Inc. Auctioneers and Appraisers announces a new collaboration with the jovial, mustachioed king of toy auctions, Noel Barrett. Barrett, along with Pook & Pook, Inc.’s founder, Ron Pook, expressed excitement about joining forces, a move that will benefit both companies, buyers, and sellers. The big question, however, is why these two well-established auction houses are looking to collaborate after decades of going it alone.
Melchoir Fordney: The story of a Pennsylvania master gunsmith and one of America’s first insanity pleas.
If you met Pook & Pook, Inc.’s Vice President Jamie Shearer at a gun show or exposition recently, he has probably shown you a long rifle coming up for auction and offered to tell you the story of its maker, famed Lancaster, Pennsylvania gunsmith, Melchoir Fordney. It might have seemed like an overblown tall tale, but it wasn’t. In fact, the odd circumstances surrounding Fordney’s death are just as wild as they are true.
Pennsylvania (or Kentucky) long rifles are a truly American art form. Used by frontiersmen, their long barrels and interior rifling made them much more accurate than their European contemporaries. Fordney’s work in the early 19th century fell under the Golden Age of Pennsylvania long rifles and his weapons were as intricately beautiful as they were useful. However, the gunsmith’s career, and his life, were cut short when he was murdered by his neighbor, John Haggerty. Haggerty murdered Fordney with an axe and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. There was an English precedent for this defense, but it was largely untried in America. Haggerty’s lawyers had a legitimate reason for this plea. Based on his statements, Haggerty attacked Melchoir Fordney, his wife, and child because of trouble with Haggerty’s talking horse.
One evening in 1847, John Haggerty came into Fordney’s shop and asked him to shoot his (Haggerty’s) horse. Fordney declined, causing Haggerty to grab a gun from the shop and attempt to shoot at the horse twice, but the gun did not fire. Enraged, he then secured an axe from his house next door and ran into the gun shop after Fordney, brandishing his axe. A witness reported that “the back part of Fordney’s head was entirely cut off, his legs were both broken, and marrow stuck in his pantaloons when taken off, one arm was broken, blood over the floor, wall and ceiling.” Haggerty also killed Fordney’s wife, Catherine Tripple, and struck his six-year-old daughter, who later recovered from temporary paralysis.
The gruesome scene had caused quite a stir and it did not take long for Haggerty to be apprehended. When questioned, he reported seeing strange things, including his horse climbing a tree and tormenting him. The horse occasionally shifted forms to become a dragon or the Antichrist. He described his horse and goat fighting in the tree in accordance with an apocalyptic battle, one in which his chickens represented Martin Van Buren. Haggerty seemed confused as to where the axe or the Fordney family fit in, and his reports of the incident were rambling, contradictory, and long-winded enough to fill up eighty-five pages of manuscript with accounts and hallucinations.
Upon examining Haggerty, Dr. Francis Burrowes noted that he had an indentation in his head from a previous injury. Dr. Burrowes said that he did not consider Haggerty “perfectly sane at the time,” and a group of doctors were called in to evaluate his skull fracture. They concluded that insanity did not usually follow such a head injury, but it was not impossible.
Despite Haggerty’s novel insanity defense, the jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree and he was hung. To determine if they made the right judgement, doctors investigated Haggerty’s skull after death, noting that “after the most diligent search, no defect was apparent.” The report went on to say that “the functions of the brain were in no manner disorganized, and every physician present, on being respectively asked, gave it as his solemn opinion that the injuries to the deceased’s head, to which his malconduct had been attributed, did not exist in fact.” Haggerty’s brain looked normal and outwardly healthy, meaning that he was not, in their understanding, insane.
The account of John Haggerty, his talking horse, and the sad fate of the Fordney family are most often remembered when viewing a Melchoir Fordney long rifle. What stories are hiding behind your antiques?
Kendrick Eshelman III, M.D., “A History of Psychiatry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Until the year 2000),” The Journal of Lancaster County’s Historical Society, vol. 103, no. 3, Fall, 2001, revised August 20, 2014, reprinted at http://edwardhandmedicalheritage.org/images/A%20HISTORY%20OF%20PSYCHIATRY%20revised%208_20_14.pdf
Lancaster Examiner & Herald, January 27, 1847.
What do these things have in common: A house our first president wouldn’t live in, the oldest piece of land continuously owned by African Americans, and a war ship run aground by pirates?
On October 8th, 2016, we are excited to feature a copy of Birch’s Views of Philadelphia, formally titled The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America; as it appeared in the Year 1800. This historically important piece is a highlight of our fall Americana auction and a rare chance for a collector or an institution to own a revered piece of national history.
William Russell Birch and his son, Thomas Birch, drew and engraved the twenty-eight plates that comprised Birch’s Views in 1800. Self-published by William Birch, their work is considered a masterpiece of copperplate engraving and is the first book of views to be produced and published entirely in the United States. Birch, an engraver and miniature painter, started on the work in 1798, amidst Philadelphia’s ten-year span as capital of the United States. The frontispiece, map, twenty-seven views, and even the subscribers list provide readers with a hitherto unavailable wealth of information about circa 1800 Philadelphia, a fact of which Birch seemed to be quite conscious. He advertised it as a “Memento for the 18th century,” and attracted several noteworthy subscribers to this first edition, including Vice President Thomas Jefferson, several members of Congress, New York City Mayor Richard Varick, architect Benjamin Latrobe, and artists Gilbert Stuart and Edward Savage.
The relevance of William Birch’s work extends beyond his careful depiction of Philadelphia’s architecture. In each plate, he and Thomas Birch include images of urban daily life and reveal glimpses of 1800’s fashion, political sentiments, economic endeavors, and daily pastimes. Several plates depict Native American delegations and African American figures. Birch also made last minute amendments to reflect current events. Plate 11, “High Street, from the Country Marketplace,” was reworked to include George Washington’s 1799 funeral procession.
Other plates of interest include Plate 13, “The House intended for the President of the United States, in Ninth Street Philadelphia,” Plate 24, “Gaol, in Walnut Street Philadelphia,” Plate 28, “The Water Works, in Centre Square Philadelphia,” and Plate 29, “Preparation for War to Defend Commerce.” Plate 13 depicts an unsuccessful attempt at the capital city title. As the temporary capital, state officials had an executive mansion built in Philadelphia in the 1790s with the hopes of being named the nation’s permanent headquarters. The attempt failed, however, as George Washington and John Adams both declined to occupy the mansion. Instead of presidents, it housed the University of Pennsylvania until 1829.
The Walnut Street Jail (Gaol) is the titular subject of Plate 24, though another structure dominates the foreground. This building was a former blacksmith’s shop purchased by Reverend Richard Allen and rolled, as visible in Plate 24, to his lot on the corner of Sixth and Lombard Streets. In 1794, the structure became the Bethel African Methodist Church, and the plot is one of the oldest in the country continuously owned by African Americans.
Plate 28 showcases the Water Works in Centre Square, site of the current Philadelphia City Hall. The Water Works pump house was built around the time that Birch’s Views were completed and was the enlightened brainchild of architect Benjamin Latrobe and engineer Frederick Graff. Its construction made Philadelphia the first city in the United States to have a general water-supply system, a system which centered around a water tower fed by steam pumps. The pumps drew water from the nearby Schuylkill River and sent it to tanks in the Water Works dome. From there, gravity dispersed the water throughout the city via wooden water mains.
Finally, Plate 29 depicts the building of the frigate Philadelphia in preparation for an undeclared naval “Quasi-War” with France. She sailed until 1803, when she ran aground after pirate pursuit off the coast of Tripoli. Rather than deliver the ship to pirates, Philadelphia’s captain attempted to sink her. He was unsuccessful, and the later mission to burn the ship in Tripoli harbor was called by Horatio Nelson “the most bold and daring act of the age.”
From infrastructure to politics, Birch’s Views covers the dynamic nature of a preeminent American city. This particular first edition is inscribed “John Morrison, Montgomery County Abingdon Township, Pennsylvania. Augt. 1801,” and is in Pook & Pook, Inc.’s October 8th Americana auction. Only 156 original copies were published and there are very few copies still in private hands. Pook & Pook, Inc. hosted the most recent public sale of an original Birch’s Views in 2011. October’s copy is estimated at $12,000-$18,000.
Emily S. Warner, “Birch’s Views of Philadelphia,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Copyright 2016. http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/birchs-views-of-philadelphia/
Robert S. Teitelman, Birch’s Views of Philadelphia in 1800, US History.org, Copyright 2013. http://www.ushistory.org/birch/index.htm
BY Sara Roffino, Art+Auction
Devang Thakkar spent 10 years developing new products for Microsoft in the Pacific Northwest before relocating to New York in August to apply his expertise to the field of online art sales at Artsy. “The art world has just started the collection of data,” says Thakkar. “Companies like us and others have been collecting data, and now we’re at the tipping point that allows us to start building algorithms and testing them out.”
If Thakkar and his peers—those with whom he works at Artsy and others working across the online auction industry at companies like Paddle8, Auctionata, and Artnet—are accurate in their expectations for those algorithms, online art sales could change significantly more than just where people buy art.