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Antiques & Collectibles: US-made furniture found in Argentina

A circa 1800-10 American desk and bookcase found in 1988 in Argentina.

A circa 1800-10 American desk and bookcase found in 1988 in Argentina.

A circa 1800-10 American desk and bookcase, discovered in 1988 in the barn of an old estancia, or private ranch, in Argentina, will be offered at Christie’s Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver, Paintings, and Prints Auction Wednesday in New York.

The satinwood-inlaid and verre eglomise mahogany cylinder desk-and-bookcase, whose form and elaborate decoration indicate that its maker was au courant with the furniture designs published in London during the 1780s and ’90s, has a $150,000-$300,000 estimate.

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While the owners, who sold the desk-and-bookcase in 1988 to a furniture dealer in Argentina, had assumed it was a European work, the finding of an 1800 Philadelphia newspaper clipping behind one of the desk’s panels suggested it was made in that city. However, the striking likenesses to contemporaneous Baltimore forms raised the likelihood it was made farther south than Philadelphia, probably in Baltimore.

It is uncertain how the piece traveled to Argentina, but the popular theory is that it had been commissioned by General John Peter Van Ness (1770-1846) and his wife, Marcia (1782-1832), a wealthy Washington couple whose mansion at the corner of 17th and C streets was considered at that time “one of the finest private homes in America.”

After the Van Nesses’ deaths, their estate was divided among John’s three siblings and their heirs, which included a niece, Marcia Van Ness, who was named after her aunt and had married Sir William Gore Ouseley, a British diplomat serving in Buenos Aires. It is possible the desk-and-bookcase was shipped to Argentina in the late 1840s and remained there after the Ouseleys returned to England.

The desk-and-bookcase is from the 120-lot collection of the Westervelt Co. of Tuscaloosa, Ala., featuring 18th- and 19th-century furniture, paintings, silver, and prints.

Among the collection’s other top offerings are a pair of 1815-20 New York classical parcel-gilt verdigris and brass-inlaid tables ($100,000-
$150,000) attributed to Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854) and “The Bathing Beach” ($80,000-$120,000), an 8-by-10-inch oil on panel by the Cincinnati-born Impressionist Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927).

Also featured in the sale are 18 lots from the estate of Eric Martin Wunsch, a longtime New York collector of American decorative arts, who died in March at 88. Topping that collection are a circa 1750 Philadelphia Queen Anne carved walnut compass-seat side chair ($200,000-$300,000) and a 1750-65 New York Chippendale carved mahogany turret-top card table ($150,000-$250,000).

Massachusetts pieces include an Aaron Willard tall-case clock, its label engraved by Paul Revere ($60,000-
$90,000); a 1760-80 Boston or Salem Chippendale carved mahogany drop-leaf dining table ($12,000-$18,000); two 1740-60 Boston Queen Anne carved mahogany compass-seat side chairs, each with a $10,000-$15,000 estimate; and a 1690-1710 William and Mary chest of drawers ($8,000-
$12,000).

Another feature of the sale is the 28-lot collection of circa 1933 furniture and objects which Moses Annenberg (1877-1942), the East Prussian émigré who made a fortune as an American newspaper publisher, commissioned Thomas Molesworth to design for his Ranch A near Beulah, Wyo. Highlighting the pieces by Molesworth, the Kansas-born artist credited with popularizing the “cowboy furniture” style, are a burled fir and mica table lamp with a leather shade ($30,000-$50,000) and a burled sofa ($20,000-$30,000).

A circa 1890 Tiffany ivory and silver cane owned by Admiral Christopher C.P. Rogers (1819-92), who served twice as superintendent of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, is a highlight of Tradewinds’ all-cane auction Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Boston Marriott Peabody Hotel. The estimate is $10,000-$12,000.

A Dunhill lighter gadget cane ($8,000-$10,000), probably made in Germany in the 1930s, is among the rare or scarce items in the sale. Henry A. Taron, owner of Tradewinds, says this is the first Dunhill lighter cane he has been privileged to offer at any of his 43 all-cane auctions. Another scarcity is a circa 1895 Tiffany cane with a silver handle depicting an open-mouthed polar bear. Only the second cane of this motif offered by Tradewinds, it has a $7,000-$9,000
estimate.

This also is the estimate for a turn-of-the-18th-century ivory English pique pomander cane, whose lid when unscrewed reveals a round receptacle that usually contained a bit of cotton soaked with “healing herbs.’’ Early physicians sometimes carried a pomander cane and sniffed the concoction in an attempt to ward off illness when visiting the sick.

A historic offering is the gold quartz cane on a relic shaft from the USS Kearsarge, the sloop-of-war that defeated the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama off the coast of France in 1864. The oak for the shaft was obtained when the Kearsarge was under repair in the early 1870s. The estimate is $7,000-$9,000.

Another historic cane is the initialed gold and silver cane of Juan Pablo Rojas Paúl, president of Venezuela from 1888-90. Set in bezel on the top of the gold handle is a silver disc with the coat of arms of Venezuela. The estimate is $3,500-$4,500.

A selection of items from the estate of Constance Perin, a cultural anthropologist and independent scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1983, will be offered at Central Mass Auctions’ estates sale Thursday at 6 p.m. at Post 435 (Vernon Hill), 267 Providence St., Worcester. Perin died last year at 82.

Items from her Cambridge home include Herman Miller Eames furniture, 20th-century paintings by the California artists Guy Benveniste and Sandra Lee (Sandy) Sisson, a charcoal portrait of Perin, and books. Among them are books Perin authored including the one on nuclear plant safety risks: “Shouldering Risk: The Culture of Control in the Nuclear Power Industry” (Princeton University Press, 2006).

The 350-lot auction is an eclectic sale with offerings from other consignors as varied as a German Armand Marseille doll, a Tiffany bronze dore and slag glass box, a Victorian silver plate curling iron, a set of 1858 wooden spice containers, a folk art carved wooden horse, a Western Electric 10-D loud speaking telephone outfit, Moxie soda and Old Gold cigarette signs, a 1775 oud, the Middle Eastern musical instrument, a 14-karat gold charm bracelet, and a 1941 Chrysler Saratoga.

Virginia Bohlin can be reached at vbohlin@comcast.net.
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