Stored in a boiler room for 40 years, a pair of American Aesthetic Movement chairs with missing panels and parts sold for $390,400 (hammer price of $320,000 + 22% buyer premium) on December 5 at Rago Auctions in Lambertville, NJ.
The chairs, lot 133 in the sale, were part of a larger consignment of property collected by a Philadelphia area couple whose hobby was weekend antiquing, inherited by their son and sold by his 70-year-old widow.
Having catalogued the chairs quickly for inclusion, Rago’s turned to Dr. Roberta Mayer, a visual historian and an expert in turn-of-the twentieth-century decorative arts, with a particular emphasis on the work of Lockwood de Forest and Louis Comfort Tiffany, for authentication. While Dr. Mayer could not definitely identify them as from the workshop of L.C. Tiffany or any other leading furniture maker of the period, her report stated:
“These massive armchairs, dating to the American Aesthetic Movement of the 1880s and early 1890s, are almost certainly custom-made pieces crafted for an elite patron…. several aspects of these chairs, including the glass inlay, are similar to furniture associated with or executed by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933)….They represent a unique and important design.”
The approximately 15 house and phone bidders came from throughout the Northeast, as well as California and Florida and were joined by more bidders online. A number were established clients at Rago’s, as it ranks in the top five of auction houses selling late 19th C./20th C. design in the U.S. Others had been contacted directly by Rago’s or found the sale online. Many bidders were still active in the $200,000 range, bested at the close by Mr. Eric Streiner, a New York collector.
“I joked before the auction that the chairs would definitely sell for between $20,000 and $200,000,” said Tom Martin, who found the chairs. “Now David Rago will be making jokes about how low I estimated these for years to come.”