Antiques & Collectibles

Collection captures Shaker reverence

Circa 1840 trustee’s desk (top left) described as “the finest and most important example of Shaker furniture ever made in the Shaker communities in Ohio and Kentucky” is from Part 2 of the McCue Collection being sold by Willis Henry. Its estimate is $30,000-$50,000.
Circa 1840 trustee’s desk (right) described as “the finest and most important example of Shaker furniture ever made in the Shaker communities in Ohio and Kentucky” is from Part 2 of the McCue Collection being sold by Willis Henry. Its estimate is $30,000-$50,000.

A rare Shaker 8-foot-4-inch trustees desk that the late J. J. Gerald McCue of Lexington called “the Cathedral” is a highlight of the Willis Henry Shaker Auction to be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield.

The desk, which has a $30,000-
$50,000 estimate, is from Part 2 of the McCue Shaker Collection. Part 1 sold last September for $1.2 million.

The collection was started unintentionally when McCue, who died in 2011 at 97, was in his 30s and a young Smith College physics professor. He needed a storage piece for his shirts and bought a Shaker cupboard that led him to buying other Shaker pieces.


When he married Miriam, a Smith College psychology professor, she too became a collector and together over their 61-year marriage they assembled what Henry described as “ one of the earliest and finest private collections of Shaker.”

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Other Part 2 top offerings include a 6-foot-3-inch cupboard over drawers in its original cherry red painted finish ($30,000-$40,000) from 1825-50 that was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in 1973-74; a pine blanket chest in its original chrome yellow painted finish ($20,000-$30,000) that was exhibited in 1964 at the Museum of Fine Arts ($20,000-$30,000); a nearly 3-foot-long tailoring counter in its original bittersweet orange painted finish that the McCues used as a sideboard in their dining room ($20,000-$30,000); and a sister’s sewing desk with traces of its original red-stained finish ($15,000-

There is a variety of small items with estimates under $1,000 ranging from $600-$800 for a pine sap bucket, a pine applesauce pail, and a splint basket with carved hoop handle to $400-$600 for four Canterbury cherry hangers to $200-$300 for two clay and pipe bowls that the church was selling in 1814 for a penny each.

Following the sale of the 56 lots from the Part 2 collection, 164 items from other Shaker collections will be sold, including a very rare shelf clock. The circa 1795 rectangular 23-inch-high pine and cherry clock with its original cut steel hands and original pendulum has a $20,000-$30,000 estimate.

Other rarities include a circa 1830-40 Canterbury, N.H., 10-drawer pine chest in its original deep yellow stained finish ($15,000-$20,000), probably used in the sister’s sewing workshop for textile storage; a large 10 -inch-diameter oval carrier in its original chrome yellow painted finish ($8,000-$12,000); and a set of eight Mount Lebanon, N.Y., maple chairs with their original woven seats ($5,000-$7,000).


Another Mount Lebanon rarity is a 23-inch-high candle sconce with oak back, cherry or maple base, and tin candle holders that Henry says is “the only Shaker candle sconce we’ve ever had at auction in our 31 years.” The estimate is $5,000-$7,000.

The auction also includes a number of child-related items. Although the Shakers were celibate, children became part of the community through adoption, as orphans, or with parents who adopted the Shaker religion.

Among the items are a rare child’s washstand ($3,000-$5,000), an armchair ($1,500-$2,500), a doll dressed in Shaker clothing ($600-$900), and a sampler cross-stitched with the alphabet and numbers 1 through 9 ($1,000-
$1,500). Shaker samplers were used primarily as a means for young girls to learn stitchery in order to be able to mark initials on clothing, linens, and other community fabrics.

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The top seller at John McInnis’s auction last month was a 4½-by-
5¼-inch painting of seated men by Park Soo-Keun, the self-taught Korean artist, who sold his paintings for $10 to $30 to US soldiers stationed in Korea after the war.


The oil on board, found in a California thrift shop, brought $105,300 against a $120,000-
$160,000 estimate. This was well below the $460,000 paid for each of the Park Soo-Keun paintings sold by McInnis in 2008 and 2010, but this painting was unsigned.

Paintings brought five of the auction’s top 10 prices. “White Birches in a Fall Landscape” by the Cape Ann artist Anthony Thieme (1888-1954) sold for $22,230 against a $10,000-$15,000 estimate; a Florida landscape ($21,060 against $18,000-$24,000) by A. E. Backus (1906-90), considered the dean of Florida landscape artists; and a painting of a house by a river ($11,700 against $10,000-$20,000) by the Japanese artist Kinosuke Ebihara (1904-70).

An 1836 miniature portrait in watercolor on ivory of a gentleman by the Charleston, S.C., artist Charles Fraser (1782-1860), whose portraits include one of the Marquis de Lafayette painted during his 1824-25 visit to the United States, sold for $18,135 or more than nine times the low of its $2,000-$4,000 estimate. A portrait of Fraser by the Boston artist Alvan Fisher(1792-1863) is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts.

An 18th-century Queen Ann grain-painted chest-on-chest of New Hampshire’s Dunlap School and a nearly 7-foot-long Chinese carved center table of the rare huanghuali wood tied for the auction’s seventh-top price of $16,380. The chest had an $8,000-$12,000 estimate and the table a $10,000-$15,000 estimate.

Other top sellers included a monumental pair of 87½-inch elephant tusks mounted on wrought iron bases that went for $26,325 against a $22,000-
$28,000 estimate; an early-20th-century carved carousel horse attributed to the Herschell-Spillman carousel company ($18,720 against $7,000-
$12,000); a coin silver cann ($14,040 against $5,000-$10,000) by the Philadelphia silversmith Philip Syng Jr. (1703-89); and a monumental 90-inch bronze Japanese exhibition urn of the Meiji period (1868-1912) that sold for $14,040 (against $10,000-$15,000).

Two of the expected top sellers, a pair of “Peace” and “Plenty” figures carved for the “Lord” Timothy Dexter house in Newburyport and a 20th-century folk art eagle by the Biddeford, Maine, carver Joseph Romuald Bernier failed to find buyers. Each had a $40,000-$60,000 estimate.

CORRECTION: Because of an editing error, a caption in the Aug. 25 Antiques & Collectibles incorrectly described a cradle. The 1665-85 Barnstable or Yarmouth cradle is from Historic New England, one of the 11 institutions collaborating in Four Centuries of Massachu-setts Furniture.

Virginia Bohlin can be reached at vboh