Antiques & Collectibles: Revere knew and drew this Redcoat

Paul Revere’s watercolor of British Marine Major John Pitcairn is expected to bring $20,000-$30,000.
Paul Revere’s watercolor of British Marine Major John Pitcairn is expected to bring $20,000-$30,000.

A 6½-by-5-inch watercolor by Paul Revere of the British Marine Major John Pitcairn on horseback is a highlight of Skinner’s American Furniture & Decorative Arts Auction next Sunday at 10 a.m. at its Boston gallery.

According to typed inscriptions applied to the back of the frame, the painting, which has a $20,000-$30,000 estimate, was from the estate of Duncan Phyfe (1770-1854), who emigrated with his family from Scotland to New York as a teenager and became one of 19th-century America’s leading cabinetmakers.

Phyfe’s interest in the portrait, which was inherited by his grandson, may have come from the Scottish heritage he shared with Pitcairn (1722-75), the son of a Scottish minister.


Revere’s connection to Pitcairn, who was sent to Boston in 1774 with a detachment of 600 marines when unrest was spreading in the 13 Colonies, began when Pitcairn was billeted in the North End home of Revere’s neighbor Francis Shaw, an anti-British tailor.

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However, despite their differences, Pitcairn with his integrity and sense of humor is said to have been highly regarded by the people with whom he dealt, including Revere, who with his engraver’s eye for detail may have executed the portrait at this time.

Pitcairn, who was mortally wounded in the Battle of Bunker Hill, is buried in the crypt of Christ Church, the “Old North Church” made famous by Revere and his midnight ride.

Another watercolor of local origin is the circa 1810 “The Royal Psalmist” by Lucy Douglass (1788-1873) of Plymouth, which is illustrated in “American Primitive Painting” by Jean Lipman (1942, Oxford University Press).

The 17¾-by-25½-inch painting, which has a $30,000-$50,000 estimate, was consigned by heirs of Edith Halpert (1900-70), founder of the Downtown Gallery and the American Folk Art Gallery in New York. It retains two labels from the latter gallery, and a label indicating it was loaned to the Museum of Modern Art for the “Exhibition of American Art 1609-1938” in Paris that latter year.


With furniture prices remaining relatively low except for the rare and important pieces, this is a great time to buy, says Stephen Fletcher, director of Skinner’s American Furniture & Decorative Arts Department.

In this sale, there are estimates as low as $300-
$500 for an 18th-century Queen Anne maple side chair, $400-$600 for a 19th-century octagonal-top candlestand, and $700-$900 for a cherry and maple slant-front desk.

The highest furniture estimate is $25,000-
$35,000 for a set of 12 circa 1780 carved mahogany shield-back dining chairs similar to ones in the Winterthur Museum collection and to ones that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned.

Estimates for the eight weather vanes in the sale range from $10,000-$15,000 for a molded copper stag vane to $600-$800 for a 19th-century, white painted wooden fish vane.

A rare offering is a 12-inch-long, 15½-inch-high salesman’s sample of a rosewood square piano made by Jonas Chickering (1798-1853), who in 1823 in Boston founded the first piano manufacturing company in the country. The estimate is $1,000-$1,500.

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The “I’ll knock a homer for you” baseball that Babe Ruth signed in 1926 and sent to an ailing 11-year-old New Jersey boy sold for $250,641 at Grey Flannel Auctions online sale this month.

The winning bid was placed by Pete Siegel, co-founder of Gotta Have It! Collectibles in New York. Siegel says he is “a big Yankees fan” and that the baseball will have a prominent place in the museum he plans to build in New York showcasing the historical and important Yankee memorabilia he has been collecting over the past 20 years.

Ruth, who sent the ball from St. Louis, where the Yankees were playing the Cardinals in the World Series, came through in Game 4 on his promise to young Johnny Sylvester. He hit not one but three homers, and three days later he wrote a letter to Johnny stating that he would try to hit another homer for him or “maybe two.” The letter brought $71,553.

Ruth wasn’t the only celebrity to reach out to Johnny, who eventually recovered from the injury he suffered when he fell off a horse. Tennis great Bill Tilden sent him a tournament racquet used in the US National Championships, now known as the US Open. It sold for $26,436, while the autographed football sent by Future Hall of Fame running back Harold “Red” Grange brought $3,300.

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A pair of rocking chairs Abraham Lincoln used in Springfield, Ill., sold for $26,121 at Nate D. Sanders Auctions in Los Angeles last month.

The chairs were given by Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, to a friend, Miss Olmsted, when they were clearing their home of its furnishings before leaving for Washington, D.C., and President Lincoln’s first inaugural on March 4, 1861.

The $26,121 paid for the chairs was the same price paid for a blue bordered white china soup plate centered with a shield and the monogram “J” that was used in the White House during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.

A black silk necktie used by President Kennedy sold for $9,151, but a Christian Dior gold-plated necklace with faux coral beads that belonged to the former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy did not sell. Nor did the application for a Massachusetts driver’s license that she filled out and signed in 1968.

The auction’s top seller was an Apollo 11 flag that brought $63,195. The flag was attached to a certificate reading “This flag traveled to the moon with Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing, July 20, 1969,” and that had the signatures of astronauts Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

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Virginia Bohlin can be reached at vbohlin@com