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Antiques & Collectibles: Cloisonné censers generate sizzling top bid

A pair of Chinese incense burners that sold for $248,850.
A pair of Chinese incense burners that sold for $248,850.

Two 19th-century Chinese cloisonné censers stole the show at James D. Julia’s Fine Art, Asian and Antiques Auction in Fairfield, Maine, last month when they sold for just under a quarter-million dollars.

James Callahan, Julia’s director of Asian Art, who had given the censers a conservative $6,500-$7,500 estimate while thinking they possibly might bring around $60,000, admitted that even he was surprised when the 34-inch vessels used to burn incense went for $248,850.

The turquoise censers, decorated with lotus scrolls and deer and with supports in the form of three cranes, were purchased by a Chinese collector.

Another top-selling Asian offering that soared above its estimate was an 8-foot-6-inch-long ink-and-color hand scroll depicting horses in a landscape by the Chinese artist Xu Beihong (1895-1953), which sold for $154,125 against a $1,200-$1,800 estimate.


The second-highest price of the four-day, 3,267-lot auction was the $207,375 paid for the Civil War archive of Luis F. Emilio, the young Salem soldier who became a captain in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first all-black military unit raised in the North.

The archive was purchased by the Massachusetts Historical Society and joins a collection of Emilio’s 54th Regiment photographs and his 1863 diary, donated to the Society by his sister more than 100 years ago.

“The scarcity of surviving manuscript materials about the 54th Regiment and the continued interest about African-American military service in the Civil War makes this an extremely important acquisition,” said Dennis Fiori, president of the Massachusetts Historical Society, which was founded in 1791 and is the country’s oldest historical society.

The Society is currently holding at its 1154 Boylston St. headquarters the National Gallery of Art’s traveling exhibition “Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial.” Complementing the exhibition is a display of material from the archive.


The Saint-Gaudens bronze monument, which stands on the Boston Common across from the State House, honors Boston-born Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the members of the 54th Regiment under his command who died in the assault on Fort Wagner, on Morris Island, S.C., on July 18, 1863.

The Emilio archive includes a four-page letter that he wrote on July 22, 1863, to his parents about the battle. It reads: “Through the grace of providence I pass safely through the terrible assault of Ft. Wagner last Saturday night . . . where our regt. was fearfully cut-up. We lost our beloved Col. Shaw, killed on the parapet . . . nearly 300 men killed, wounded and missing in all.”

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The world’s most famous stamp, the legendary British Guiana One-Cent Magenta, will be sold by Sotheby’s in New York in June, and it is expected to bring $10 million-$20 million.

The One-Cent Magenta, which was in a contingency supply of stamps printed in 1856 by the Royal Gazette, the British Guiana newspaper, when the regular shipment of stamps from England was delayed, was found in 1873 among family papers by a 12-year-old Scottish boy living in the South American British colony (now the sovereign state of Guyana).

Unaware of its value, he sold the stamp for a few shillings to a buyer who sent it to Scotland for inspection From there it passed through various hands in Europe until it was purchased at a 1922 auction for $35,000 by the textile magnate and philatelist Arthur Hind, of Utica, N.Y.


In 1970 a world auction record for a single stamp was set when a consortium brought the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta for $280,000.

In 1980 the stamp was purchased by John E. du Pont, an heir to the du Pont chemical fortune, who is said to have kept it locked in a vault.

Known increasingly for behavior that became erratic in the 1980s, du Pont was declared to be mentally ill when he was convicted in 1997 of the shooting death of his friend David Schulz, 36, an Olympic gold medal wrestler. He died 13 years later in a Pennsylvania prison at 72. The stamp is being sold by his estate with the proceeds to benefit the Eurasian Pacific Wildlife Conservation Fund, which du Pont championed during his lifetime.

The world record for a single stamp sold at auction is $2.3 million, paid in 1996 by a consortium of buyers for an 1855 Swedish Treskilling Yellow.

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The early-20th-century French giltwood piano and late-19th-century giltwood Louis XVI-style bed that belonged to Jazz Age diva Josephine Baker (1906-76) will be offered by Christie’s in London on Thursday.

The piano is expected to bring 30,000-40,000 British pounds (about $49,000-$66,000) and the bed 4,000-
6,000 pounds (about $6,600-$9,800).

The pieces were originally in the Château des Milandes, the 15th-century French castle that Baker, who had grown up poor in St. Louis, purchased after finding fame and fortune in France. A vaudeville dancer at Harlem’s Plantation Club in her teens, she became a sensation in Paris at 19 as the exotic “sauvage” in La Revue Nègre, which led to her becoming a movie star and the highest-paid performer in Europe in the 1930s.


The 24-room château in the Dordogne was her home for more than 30 years, but her extravagant lifestyle led to her losing the property in 1969.

It is owned today by Henry de Labarre, an architect, and his wife, Claude, a viticulturist, who have created what they call a “modest” museum to pay homage to Baker, which they open for tours from April to November. The museum tells the story of Baker’s life through photographs, recordings, film clips, posters, and artifacts ranging from the feather skirt she wore when she danced topless and barefoot in La Revue Nègre to photographs of her with Martin Luther King Jr. and at the 1963 March on Washington.

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