A rosewood cylinder desk, made in the 1860s by Thomas Brooks and standing 9 feet 3 inches tall by 50 inches wide, soared to $49,450 at the sale of the contents of the Kirkwood mansion, one of the most famous and stately privately-owned antebellum homes in the South. The auction was held Sept. 5 on the grounds of the mansion itself, under a 6,000-square-foot circus tent.
The sale was conducted by Hal Hunt Auctions, based in Northport, Ala. The cylinder desk was the top earner of the 325 lots that crossed the block. There was no internet or phone bidding, but the two absentee bids submitted were both winners. The mansion was not sold that day, only the contents. Most of the items comprised the collection of Al and Danky Blanton, who lived in the mansion from 2001-2009.
“The sale was a great success, exactly as I had anticipated,” said Hal Hunt of Hal Hunt Auctions. “It was a tribute to what was contained in the mansion – about 400 pieces of mint 19th-century furniture, original works of art, outstanding decorative accessories and more – but it also demonstrated that quality antiques do well, even in a down economy. High prices were sustained quite well, in all the categories.”
Some of the pieces sold had been in the 8,000-square-foot mansion since it was first built in 1860 by cotton magnate Foster Mark Kirksey, who operated the property as a plantation. Mr. Kirksey’s wife, in fact, was a relative of Mary Todd Lincoln, Abe’s wife. The rosewood cylinder desk, as it turns out, will remain right where it is; the person who bought the mansion also placed the top bid for that piece.
Additional highlights from the sale follow. All prices quoted include a 15 percent buyer’s premium.
A gorgeous rosewood marble-top center table – attributed to Alexander Roux and with carved cupids, dolphins, animal heads, grapes and flowers – climbed to $34,500; a rare rosewood laminated Meeks slipper sofa garnered $11,500; and an impressive 5-piece parlor set by J.H. Belter in the Rosalie with Grapes pattern (comprising a laminated rosewood settee, sofa, meridienne and chairs) hit $33,925.
A hard-to-find Empire dining table – 11 feet long by 5 feet wide, with 8 dining chairs – fetched $10,350; a rare stenciled Federal work table topped out at $8,050; an important Classical stenciled armoire, 7 feet 8 inches tall by 5 feet 7 inches wide and in mint original condition, rose to $20,700; a stenciled acanthus carved game table brought $5,000; and an original 1860s biscuit stand made $5,750.
A half tester bed, signed C. Lee and oversized at 10 feet tall, achieved $21,850; a queen-size rosewood half tester bed, 10 feet 3 inches tall, realized $20,125; an elaborate carved Victorian walnut center table, 38 inches by 27 inches, earned $18,400; a rosewood armoire, original to Kirkwood and to remain in the mansion, went for $12,650; and a rosewood dresser, signed Baudoine, commanded $6,325.
A handsome half commode attributed to the Herter Brothers and with a Greek & Key design changed hands for $4,600; a wonderful crocheted mahogany Empire sideboard, 60 inches wide by 44 inches tall, soared to $18,975 (double the pre-sale estimate); a Federal claw-foot butler’s desk with hidden compartments coasted to $10,350; and an Empire black marble-top pier table gaveled for $4,600.
A nice carved griffin marble-top library table found a new owner for $5,000; an important work table with pull-out side lap desk breezed to $5,462.50; a fine pair of similar matched Empire mint julep cabinets, 36 inches wide by 35 inches tall, sold for $4,887.50 each; a fine rosewood secretary desk, 45 inches wide by 8 feet 9 inches tall, brought $9,775; and a mint Federal claw-footed sofa hit $5,175.
An impressive New York Empire work table, labeled J. & J.W. Meeks, went for $5,175; a J.H. Belter armchair with pink upholstery in the Rosalie with Grapes pattern demanded $6,900; a sterling silver service by Internation, in the Wildrose pattern, crossed the finish line at $2,012.50; a gold gilt pier mirror (11 feet 5 inches tall) made $5,750; and antique Paris porcelain vases brought $300-$3,000 each.
About 30 original oil paintings were offered, many of them portrait pieces. Top achievers in the group included an 1863 signed portrait by Nicolla Marschall, who designed the first Confederate flag and Confederate uniform ($8,050); and a monumental oil on canvas rendering of three girls and their dog, unsigned, from a Maryland estate ($8,050). Other pieces brought prices between $2,500 – $11,000.
A gold gilt over-the-mantel mirror, 5 feet tall, gaveled for $4,025; an Empire Classical armoire, 6 feet wide by 8 feet 4 inches tall, commanded $5,175; an Empire armoire with mirror doors made $9,200; a flamed mahogany Empire armoire brought $7,475; a rosewood work stand attributed to Belter hit $5,175; and a pair of laminated rosewood side chairs attributed to Meeks realized $8,050 each.