John Chaski Antiques

American Material Culture

2017 Connecticut Spring Antiques Show

John Chaski

The entire family made the trek to Hartford for the 2017 Connecticut Spring Antiques Show and a great time was had by all, mostly more or less.  It was great to see an old friend in the form ofa wonderful Connecticut Impressionist landscape, properly framed and looking fresh to death.  Our "best" sale was the pilothouse eagle, but our favorite sale was the Scandinavian paint decorated blanket chest.  It sold to a couple around our age who will use it as a coffee table.  They loved the unusually fine quality of the decoration and were shocked at the price (less than $500).  It's a great feeling to sell somebody something they can use at a bargain price.  Our next show is Philadelphia, at the Navy Yard, April 21-23.

Remembering Pam Boynton

John Chaski

People who knew Pam better will write more insightful things, but these are a couple of my memories of her. 

When I did the NHADA show for the first time on two weeks notice, I was walking the floor and came to Pam's booth on the downstairs level.  I extended the same nod and reserved "Hi" that Chance the rapper probably gives Jay-Z when they run into each other at the Grammy's afterparty.  Pam replied spryly "Hi John!  How are you?  Excited to be doing the show?"  I said I was, but that I was nervous.  Two weeks wasn't a lot of time, but I was happy just to be doing it and didn't have great expectations for selling under the circumstances.  "You'll do fine."  She was right. 

I had met Pam maybe twice before this.  After she said "Hi John!", a thought ran through my brain.  I try to avoid coarse language in my blog, but in this instance I can't.  I remember exactly what I thought, and historical accuracy outranks sugar-coating.  "Holy shit, Pam Boynton knows who I am."

The following spring at Hartford, I had a nice theorem in my booth.  Not a mind-blowing theorem, but a nice one.  On Saturday afternoon Martha Boynton came over to the booth with Bill Samaha.  "At least ask him for the dealer price!"  Bill did.  He hesitated.  "What are you doing!  Just buy the thing!"  Bill did.  He didn't need it.  I'm sure he made money on it, but he didn't need it.  He must have mentioned it to Martha and Pam as one of the things he liked on the floor, and I imagine them simultaneously blurting out "Buy it from the kid!"  Pam's connection to that generation of the antiques business had made a sale for me.  Not for someone else, for me.

I'm sure there were other things Bill liked on the floor.  But Pam cared about the future of the business she excelled at and loved.  It's the only excuse I can think of for why she cared who I was, knew that it was my first year at NHADA, and helped talk someone into buying something from me that he didn't need.  It's easy to wish someone success, a lot harder to help make it happen.  Some would call it Yankee ingenuity.  Pam might not have known that I recognized how kind she had been to me, that I knew she had gone out of her way for me, and I regret that.  I will miss her.

Collecting on the Cheap: American Impressionists

John Chaski

"American Impressionists" and "Bargain Basement" may not be two things you see together in one sentence often, but I speak from experience.  Our bedroom is done in American Impressionists that may not have been really dirty cheap, but we love them.

Katharine Farrell, oil on canvas, circa 1910

Katharine Farrell, oil on canvas, circa 1910

This little landscape was bought in Hagerstown, MD out of a group shop for $575.  The frame is original and the painting is in beautiful condition.  Farrell trained in Philadelphia, which is somewhat local so that's cool.  More importantly, it's a beautiful painting of high quality and it makes us happy.

Frank Cohen Kirk, oil on canvas, circa 1940.  Photo Courtesy: Pook & Pook, Inc.

Frank Cohen Kirk, oil on canvas, circa 1940.  Photo Courtesy: Pook & Pook, Inc.

This next one can cover a lot of holes in the plaster if you need it to.  36" square without the frame!  $510 from Pook & Pook in 2014.  I've always loved this type of still life painting.

Elizabeth Washington, pastel on paper, circa 1915

Elizabeth Washington, pastel on paper, circa 1915

We had this great little pastel in our house for a long time before Kate Avery of Heir & Space bought it from us.  I'm not going to blow her cover but let's just say it cost less than a moderately fancy dinner for two.  But enough about me, how about some paintings you can buy right now?

Nobody does bargains like Etsy.  $115!  Spoiler alert, the painting on the back is better.

Nobody does bargains like Etsy.  $115!  Spoiler alert, the painting on the back is better.

Carl Illig, New York.  This is late but pretty pleasant and big for the money at 18x24.

Carl Illig, New York.  This is late but pretty pleasant and big for the money at 18x24.

Prefer to roll the dice at auction?  Here's a still life that's at $12.50 with one day left!  Great original frame.

Prefer to roll the dice at auction?  Here's a still life that's at $12.50 with one day left!  Great original frame.

Fannie Woodruff, Massachusetts, 1898

Fannie Woodruff, Massachusetts, 1898

We all missed the boat on that last one at $72.  Oh well, just look at it as an example of the bargains that are possible.  Get out there and buy something you love!

Bargain Book: M.A.D. The Americana Chronicles

John Chaski

"30 Years of Stories, Sales, Personalities, and Scandals".  Since you can buy it on Amazon for like $8, I'm not going to make an extensive case for the book or spoil any of it. 

That being said, I highly recommend it.  Like as highly as I would recommend any book that's not Harry Potter or Peppa Pig.  I've owned it for a very long time and still pull it down off the shelf on a regular basis.  It was edited by Lita Solis-Cohen.  She deserves a Nobel prize for putting up with as many antiques dealers as she has.  That should be a new one, really.  The Nobel Prize for putting up with a bunch of antiques dealers all the time. 

The scandals and sales are great, but the personalities are the best.  Chris Huntington, Roger Bacon, some psychopath who made fake Mormon documents, Eddy Nicholson.  If you're weird like me you'll laugh, maybe cry, and read it all in one sitting.  Just buy the book already!

Back to the Future: Price Diversity

John Chaski

Back to the serious stuff, the most important antiques-related thing a 30 year old dealer can think about, the future of the marketplace.  For a variety of reasons, I think shows have a vital role to play.  Maybe that will be another post.  Humor me for the purposes of this lecture. 

Diversity is a good thing.  Some of the shows that might once have been considered the most traditional and stodgy are now allowing contemporary material in small doses, opening up date lines, hosting special events for young collectors, etc.  That's all great, seriously, but it ignores a vital point of concern for a lot of young collectors - price.  It's important to retain new collectors but equally or, perhaps at this moment in time, more important to recruit new ones.  To invite potential new collectors to a cocktail party where the price points say "luxury" and "exclusive" rather than "useful" and "inexpensive" may not be constructive if those same people can't see spending $10,000 on an old walking stick. 

I do shows, so I understand the excuses and I've had just enough to drink to write a one paragraph tirade about each one.  We all have egos and are more important than that $195 blanket chest or $35 silhouette.  There are different shows where people can buy that stuff.  A $250 sampler doesn't pay its own rent even if it sells. 

"I am too important to have a $195 blanket chest or $35 silhouette in my booth."  You probably are.  You know what I am?  Too young to be doing a couple of the shows I do.  The ones where many of the more experienced dealers thrive because they've had the opportunity to build relationships with existing collectors.  Existing collectors.  In other words, people who decided which dealers they would trust to build their collections through before I did my first show.  Most of those collectors scurry by my booth as if I'm wearing one of those bird flu masks.  But if you're too important to sell those things, odds are you actually kind of need at least some people my age to do that show, to fill it and sustain it.  There are easier ways for me, but I enjoy the challenge and I'm a team player.  You can be a team player too, by helping me out.  Bring some interesting, inexpensive things.  Doing so will help foster a new generation of collectors who I can sell to when I'm 96 and have bionic joints. 

"If they want something for $50 why don't they go to that other show or a co-op."  Great idea, that will help the show you're doing right now survive.  Next.

"This show costs me $25 per square foot all-in, how can I bring a blanket chest for $195?"  I don't know, I manage to do it and I mostly make money.  You can't apply that math to your whole booth and hope to make it out alive, but that's not what I'm asking.  Here's a little example:

New Hampshire Antiques Show, 2014.

New Hampshire Antiques Show, 2014.

Here's a lousy photo of three-quarters of one of the most profitable booths I ever set up.  I sold a pair of Micah Williams portraits, a family of Da Lee miniatures, a bunch of gameboards, a slew of pots, and almost all those silhouettes on the right.  A few of those silhouettes were one fifty, two fifty, but a bunch of them were thirty bucks, fifty bucks.  I bet I sold silhouettes to ten different people.  That's ten new customers for the mailing list.  Ten people leaving that madhouse of a show thinking "even with a crowd that big there are bargains to be had here", "I can afford to buy at this show", "I can't believe you can buy a real antique with some substance to it for less than the filet at the hotel restaurant."

Those are happy thoughts, the ones we as collectors like to think and the ones we as dealers want collectors to have.  Let's all be happy, let's all be activists for a healthier little antiques world.  Bring something affordable and nice, a real bargain, to your next show.

Market Watch: From the Collection of Peggy du Pont Smith

Market WatchJohn Chaski
"Hey bros!  It is going to be so sweet living next door to you.  We're going to be like the most chill neighbors ever.  Dude, I brought you something, like a house warming gift but from the new neighbors.  It's a red Snuggie.  Bartholomew, show him the Snuggie!"

"Hey bros!  It is going to be so sweet living next door to you.  We're going to be like the most chill neighbors ever.  Dude, I brought you something, like a house warming gift but from the new neighbors.  It's a red Snuggie.  Bartholomew, show him the Snuggie!"

So that Edward Hicks Penn's Treaty, the cover lot, did not sell.  I've never been a fan of when a sale is considered to be a great success when actually the sale is a disaster but one thing breaks out.  On the flipside, I don't think the cover lot passing makes a sale much less successful when the rest of the story is as positive as this one was. 

Here are the numbers:  9% unsold; 6% sold below estimate; 21% sold within estimate; 64% sold above estimate.  SIXTY-FOUR PERCENT!  And this was not the most untouched stuff in the world.  I'm not saying it was rough by any stretch, but it was not collected for condition.  There were still bargains.  

At $27,500 lot 6063 was a bargain in my mind, but it's the sort of thing I like.

At $27,500 lot 6063 was a bargain in my mind, but it's the sort of thing I like.

After the Schorsch sale last January, I think this was a great step forward for the Pennsylvania hardwood market.  At that sale a lot of things that had been bought recently sold for nickels and dimes on the dollar.  Sometimes provenance is great to have and makes a sale easier, but in the case of this sale I think it was helpful that the things had been off the market long enough that they weren't fresh in everyone's mind.  I'll leave you with one of the stars from this year's Americana Week, and the top lot from the Peggy du Pont Smith sale.

Lot 6010, a William & Mary valuables chest in the form of a high chest, Southeastern Pennsylvania, 24 3/4" high.  There were some little lip repairs.  The lower drawer was rebuilt a long time ago.  The age-old question: if you can't find another one, how much does it matter?  To the buyer and underbidder it didn't much.  $612,500.

Lot 6010, a William & Mary valuables chest in the form of a high chest, Southeastern Pennsylvania, 24 3/4" high.  There were some little lip repairs.  The lower drawer was rebuilt a long time ago.  The age-old question: if you can't find another one, how much does it matter?  To the buyer and underbidder it didn't much.  $612,500.

Market Watch: Folk Art from the Katz Collection

John Chaski

These sheep were having a rough day when Susan Waters painted them.  Especially the one on the left.  "Dude, I've seen some things that are tough for a sheep to process today...some things it's hard for a sheep to forget" that sheep is saying.  That's sort of how I feel when I reflect on Sotheby's sale of Folk Art from the Katz Collection, which I attended last Saturday. 

29% unsold; 30% sold below estimate; 15% sold within estimate; 26% sold above estimate.  It could be worse, right?  If you want to separate the folk portraiture out then yes, it could be worse.  Folk portraits (full size oil paintings):  48% unsold; 18% below; 24% within; 9% above. 

 

One of the exceptions...lot 5101, John Usher Parsons, $50,000.

One of the exceptions...lot 5101, John Usher Parsons, $50,000.

 

The Rasmussen Almshouse took off.  That saved the sale, with its own single-owner catalog, from falling short of the million dollar mark.  What's the lesson?  I'm not sure there's much of one.  Collectors of folk art are very much adverse to lined paintings.  In my opinion that is irrational, but it's life.  That blurry realm in between folk and academic portraiture is not a real happy one as of late.  Buy paintings by somebody who embraced the limitations of their naivety.  Buy them in good condition when you can, and think hard when they are in good condition but lined (yes, that is a thing). 

That's enough sad stuff for one night.  Next blog will be about a much happier subject, formal Pennsylvania furniture.  I. am. not. even. joking

NYC Americana Week

John Chaski

Happy New Year!  Or as antiques dealers say, are you going to New York?  If you're not, I am.  I work cheap, too.  How cheap?  It depends on the level of service you require, but I'm pretty sure you'll be asking yourself "how can he work that cheap?"  Meticulously thorough vetting, saleroom representation, getting the stuff out of the city.  Peace of mind. 

Where will I be?  Everywhere, and all at once.  Like a Tibetan monk achieving the rainbow body.  I will be attending a session whenever there is one.  When there are two, I'll attend one and phone-bid the other. 

I'll leave the complete listing of events to others, but here's what I'm excited about:

Wednesday night I'll attend the Ceramics fair opening.  On Thursday 1/19 I'll attend both sessions of the Parker sale at Sotheby's.  I love the selection of Philadelphia carving; you could really do up a few rooms just out of this one sale.  Then the Winter Antiques Show opens, the main event.  And do you know what's cool about the Outsider show, also opening on Thursday?  It does its own thing.  Like the Ceramics fair does...I like that.  On Friday the action shifts to Christie's for me.  A wide variety.  Plus it's nice to walk the diamond district during the break and visit the Thai food truck for lunch.  Saturday it's back to Sotheby's for what will probably be a very long day.  Some really nice things in all three sessions. 

If there's something that excites you and you'd like for me to be in charge, let me know!

 

Internet in Review

John Chaski

December is a time of year for a lot of things.  Among my personal favorites are Festivus and asking yourself big scary questions.  Like why is someone else raking in the internet bucks being generated by these Antiques Roadshow memes?  How did they come up with it before me? 

Okay, let's start here.  This is pretty good.

Okay, let's start here.  This is pretty good.

Pretty funny, right?  But about as funny as if an antiques dealer downloaded a meme app and took out their angst on the thing antiques dealers hate the most...IKEA.  The internet can definitely do better.

That's more like it, internet.

That's more like it, internet.

Well that one made two things obvious:

a) These are not being made by antiques people and

b) These are being made by people who are making the internet great again.

Alright, alright.  We get it.

Alright, alright.  We get it.

This one's a little bit redundant.  There's one about white privilege I'm not even going to touch.  Okay, I can smell the fragrance of rubber hitting road as my readership of eleven abandons this blog in droves.  Time to right the ship.

Yes.  This is what the internet is for.

Yes.  This is what the internet is for.

This is offensive to no one and this is hilarious.  Don't even.

Thank you, internet.

Thank you, internet.

This is one of the best.  It is funny in a self-evident way, but it is also funny because if the internet had any idea what that "coat" actually was, they'd be losing it.

Is what I'm doing a thing people do?  A bunch of memes with the author's commentary on each one?  This has to be a thing.

Another theme developing.

Another theme developing.

This is another favorite.  Grandiose claims of importance are a weird thing in the antiques business.  When spoken among confederates of course it's a different story.  But when the internet and society at large overhears us, it can be embarrassing.  You called the chair what?  Important?  Is that even an adjective for chairs?

It is.  Sorry I'm not sorry.

It is.  Sorry I'm not sorry.

We, as an industry, lose credibility with humanity when we present this as anything other than the worst owl.  Thank you, internet.

Welcome!

John Chaski

Welcome to our new website.  Thanks to all who visited us at the Delaware Antiques Show this past weekend.  With our last show of the year behind us we will focus on uploading current inventory, so please check back soon!