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Antiques & Collectibles: New year’s sales highlight old America

Clockwise from top left: Silver, which leads off Christie’s series of sales during New York’s Americana Week, includes this pair of circa 1715 chafing dishes by Boston silversmith John Coney expected to bring $120,000-$180,000.

Early Boston silver, a rare example of Massachusetts 18th-century furniture, and a painting of the Dreadnought, the celebrated clipper ship built in Newburyport, are among the highlights of Christie’s series of sales being held during Americana Week in New York Jan. 18-27.

Boston pieces in the Jan. 23 sale of silver include a rare pair of circa 1715 chafing dishes by John Coney (1655-1722), Boston’s leading silversmith at the turn of the 18th-century, and a pair of circa 1780 sauceboats and six large teaspoons, both lots by Paul Revere Jr.

The pair of chafing dishes, which have a $120,000-$180,000 estimate, are one of only two pairs by Coney. The other is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts. The sauceboats, which have a $150,000-$250,000 estimate, are two of the four sauceboats commissioned by the merchant Moses Michael Hays, one of Revere’s important patrons and the founder of Massachusetts Bank, which today is part of Bank of America.

The 1783 teaspoons, which have a $60,000-$90,000 estimate, are engraved with the script monogram “DMS,” the initials for Daniel Sargent, a Gloucester-born merchant and ship owner, and his wife, Mary, the daughter of Captain John Turner, a merchant and ship owner, whose 1668 colonial mansion in Salem was made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, “The House of the Seven Gables.”

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The silver was among 59 lots of property from the estate of Eric Martin Wunsch, a New York collector and active member of several institutions, among them the New York State Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Willard Clock Museum in North Grafton, where he served as a trustee.

Topping the Wunsch lots is a Philadelphia Chippendale carved mahogany scallop-top tea table to be offered with an $800,000-$1.2 million estimate at the Jan. 24 sale of furniture, folk art, and decorative arts.

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From a New England consignor there is a rare example of Massachusetts’s most celebrated 18th-century furniture design, a circa 1770 Chippendale mahogany bombe chest of drawers, probably made in Boston, which is expected to bring $200,000-$400,000.

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Also being featured in Christie’s Jan. 24 sale is “Favorites From the Collection of Kristina Barbara Johnson,’’ 78 lots of folk art. Listed as one of America’s top 100 collectors of art and antiques from 1986-96 and a former trustee of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, Johnson died in April at 76 in her native Poland after a lengthy illness.

In 1968, Basia Piasecka emigrated from Poland to the United States, reportedly with only $200, but when she died, her net worth was $3.6 billion, according to Forbes.

Her life, described alternately as a rags-to-riches story and a fractured fairy tale, changed when shortly after her arrival in this country she took a job as a chambermaid in the New Jersey home of J. Seward Johnson Sr., an heir to the Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid and baby powder fortune.

A year later Basia, who had studied art history in Poland, quit her job, moved into a Manhattan apartment provided by Johnson, and started taking art classes at New York University. Two years later Johnson, 76, and the father of six grown children, married 34-year-old Basia. Upon his death at 87 in 1983, Barbara Johnson (her name now) inherited the bulk of his fortune, estimated at around $500 million, which after a three-year legal battle with his children that ended in a settlement, was reduced to about $340 million.

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However, over the years she became a billionaire and world famous as an art and antiques collector.

In 1990, Kristina Barbara, as she had become known, made auction history when she paid $15.1 million for an 18th-century Florentine ebony chest inlaid with hard and semiprecious stones, the highest price ever paid at auction for a piece of furniture. In 2004 that record was broken when she sold the chest at Christie’s in London for $36.7 million to Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein.

Her folk art being sold is as varied as “Old Covered Bridge,” an oil painting by Anna Mary Robertson, better known as “Grandma Moses,” and a limestone sculpture “Mother and Child” by William Edmonson, who in 1937 became the first African-American artist to have his works exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.

The Moses painting of a winter farm scene, depicting ice being cut and harvested for future use in summer, has a $300,000-$700,000 estimate, and the sculpture a $50,000-
$80,000 estimate. Edmonson, born the son of slaves near Nashville, worked as a stone mason before “a vision from God’’ led him to make tombstones and sculptures of religious subjects.

Among the marine art in the sale is a painting by the Danish-America artist Antonio Gasparo Jacobsen (1850-1921) of the Dreadnought, the clipper ship built in 1853 in Newburyport and which broke the New York to Liverpool record with a 10-day crossing. It has a $7,000-$10,000 estimate. A painting of the Dreadnought by the British-American artist James E. Buttersworth (1817-94) is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

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Persons interested in collecting Americana but at affordable prices will find a wide choice of modestly priced furniture and decorative arts at Skinner’s Discovery Auction featuring country Americana Thursday at 10 a.m. at its Marlborough gallery, 274 Cedar Hill St.

The Discovery auctions, held usually once a month, are “surprisingly affordable and offer something for every taste and budget,” says Anne Fallon, the department director.

Estimates for furniture in this sale range from $200-$250 for a 19th-century parquetry tilt-top tea table to $4,000-
$6,000 for a Chippendale-style tiger maple desk and bookcase.

The wide selection of Wedgwood includes a three-piece jasperware tea set with a a $300-$400 estimate, while the fine art includes a painting of a moonlit sail off the Boston coast attributed to the Boston artist Clement Drew (1806-89), which has a $300-$350 estimate.

CORRECTION: In the Jan. 5 Antiques, the highlights of “Antiques Roadshow’s” season premiere last week were from last summer’s visit to Boise, Idaho, not last season’s.


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

Correction: Because of a reporting error, the life story of art collector Kristina Barbara Johnson was incorrectly described in this column highlighting an upcoming sale at Christie’s of some of the folk art she owned.