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News from the world of art and antiques
George Washington letter sells for 3.2 million
An impassioned letter written by George Washington in 1787, exhorting the strengths of newly written United States Constitution sold for $3.2 million.
Cataloged as “the most important Washington letter to ever come to auction,” the letter was written by Washington to his nephew, Bushrod, only weeks after the Philadelphia convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution.
“It was a critical time in our young history,” said Chris Coover, senior specialist of Christie’s manuscripts and Americana department. “It was very much a touch and go situation … it’s a very revealing letter – a personal letter to a trusted family member stating why it was critical that the Constitution be ratified.”
The letter, written on handmade English paper, is inscribed with Washington’s orderly, thoughtful and legible handwriting.
Ironically, the letter was owned by an unidentified British descendant of the Washington family.
The question of the Constitution, the 55-year-old Washington writes, boils down to a simple proposition, “which the understanding of almost every man is competent” to decide: “namely – is it best for the States to unite, or not to unite?”
Conceding that the Constitution was imperfect, Washington nonetheless assails critics of the newly crafted plan for democracy and points to its strengths.
“The power under the Constitution will always be with the people,” Washington writes. “It is entrusted for certain defined purposes and for a certain limited period to representatives of their own chusing (sic); and whenever it is exercised contrary to their interests … their servants can, and undoubtedly will be recalled.”
The letter, written from Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, was expected by Christie’s to reach up to $2.5 million in auction, due to its singular frankness and historical content, Coover said.
“These were very central questions, at a very critical moment in our history,” Coover says. “Here, we have Washington espousing that the power under the Constitution will always be with the people. It’s pretty much a foreshadowing of Lincoln’s great Gettysburg Speech of a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Bidding within the packed room started at $950,000 and quickly jumped, Coover said. It stalled out at around the $2.7 million mark, as two anonymous telephone bidders battled it out. Then at shortly after 5 p.m, the auctioneer hammered the letter down at $2.8 million. Including the buyer’s premium, the letter sold for $3.2 million, shattering the previous 2002 record of $834,500 for a Washington document.
Nothing about the buyer was released by Christie’s. However, the auction room burst into applause at the conclusion of the bidding.
“There was just a tremendous amount of interest in this letter,” Coover said. “It was good to see. We hear so much about the public losing interest in its history, or how children are not learning history in their schools as they should. But, I think this sale, of a significant, cogent piece of our history, in which we had so much interest, pretty much gives the lie to that perspective.”
Russian Fabergé collection breaks records
Telegraph.co.uk, Stephen Adams, 12/1/2009 -- The trove, which belonged to the Romanov family, sold for £7 million, more than seven times the pre-sale estimate.
The sale included a 25th Wedding Anniversary Fabergé Imperial jewelled cigarette case, made as a present for Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, the sister-in-law of Emperor Alexander III.
It sold for £612,250 – 12 times the pre-sale valuation.
Two other cigarette cases sold for £601,250, including a diamond encrusted Fabergé containing a handwritten note in Russian from Emperor Nicholas II to his wife Alexandra. The note read: "Alix and I ask you to accept this small present as a souvenir of this day/Nicky”.
Two more cigarette cases sold for over £500,000.
A pair of jewelled Fabergé cufflinks sold for £103,250, almost double the previous record for a pair of cufflinks sold at auction. They were estimated to sell for £3,000 to £5,000.
The cigarette cases, cufflinks and snuff boxes were deposited by staff of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna at the Swedish Legation in St Petersburg (then named Petrograd) in November 1918, as the country's aristocracy fled in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.
She ordered them to hide the jewels in pillow cases to make sure they were not confiscated en route.
However, she died in 1920 and the trove lay "unknown for 91 years", according to Sotheby's.
Olga Vaigatcheva, a Russian art specialist from Sotheby's, commented: "Successful buyers have, without doubt, acquired a piece of Russian Imperial history.”
1800s Vampire Killing Kit Nabs $14,850
November 11, 2009, Antiquesandthearts.com, Natchez, MS -- A complete and authentic vampire killing kit — made around 1800 and complete with stakes, mirrors, a gun with silver bullets, crosses, a Bible, holy water, candles and even garlic, all housed in a American walnut case with a carved cross on top attained $14,850 at auction.
The Care and Feeding of Antiques
the Art of Collecting
by Dexter S. Augier
Chances are that you collect something…psychologists are pretty sure everyone does, and I’ll bet you have a drawer in your kitchen that proves them right!
But that’s not an Art. . . that’s just being afraid if you throw it away you’ll need it tomorrow!
What I’m talking about is the disposition that says, ‘I like that, and I’d like to own it and find some more like it’. You may like it for technical reasons, like those who collect blueprints for WWII war ships…or for nostalgic reasons, like collecting Fiesta or Fire King because you grew up with it…or for aesthetic reasons, like enjoying the quality a certain maker put into their porcelain figurines… Or, you might want to become a self-educated expert on a certain item, like cut glass perfume bottles, or Buck pocket knives. Some collectors are motivated by wanting to have what no one else has…by being able to track down, or in some instances being able to afford, items that are exclusive.
Having been a ‘collector’ practically from birth, I have rarely, ‘till now, examined my own motives and techniques. Interestingly, my many and varied collections are not focused in the same way. For instance, some sort of grew, some are based on technical admiration, some on art appreciation, some on a nostalgic connection, and others because they relate to something else I collect.
It all boils down to the fact that we collect what we like…whatever the reasons.
Motives can be so fundamental, so built-in that they simply never consciously engage a collector's attention. Focusing on objects, their beauty, function and/or their relationship to each other, is in itself a kind of art.
Collecting is not some 20th century trend; collectors throughout history have felt that same pleasure. Some of them are known to most of us because they left their collections to the public….folks like the Medicis, the Louis’ of France, J. P. Morgan, the DuPonts, Andrew Carnegie, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Helen Clay Frick, Sir John Soane, and on and on.
Whether someone collects in a public, legacy-making way, or squirrels away his world-class scrimshaw for no one else to see, the process is always individual. Collections, disorderly or precise, pry open the world and to reveal order and harmony.
Over the years I have discovered a few tricks that have helped keep my collections active.
Some say that a collection is a symbol of the person’s sense of place in the vast scheme of life. Some say it’s more like yielding to the natural hunter-gatherer instinct in all of us. I’m sure they’re both true on some level…but I have come to think of collecting as a low-grade infection…it never goes away, and occasionally bursts forth at fever pitch!
Did you know...?
by Dexter S. Augier
Salt has an important and impressive history……..In ancient Rome, soldiers were paid in salarium, which was an allowance to purchase salt. The word soldier literally meant one who is paid in salt. The sal in salarium is Latin for pay…hence our word salary, and the origin of the phrase ‘worth his salt’.
Salt was an expensive and hard-to-come-by commodity. Understandably, its use at table took on a corresponding importance.
Early salt was coarse and tended to clump together in humid weather, as a result it had to be kept in open dishes so the coarse salt could be broken up before serving. Salt cellars, sometimes just called salts, were the main serving dishes from which it was served. Often it was portioned into individual salt dips, which frequently came with miniature spoons.
Salt cellars and salt dips are beautiful collectibles. They are not too expensive, make an interesting and classy item to collect, and are fun to hunt for.…they’re interesting to share with friends who ‘never heard of such’, and make excellent memories gathered from your travels.
Looking for a specific piece? Click the category symbol below to see some of the items we have in our inventory or click here to view our inventory page.