Duncan Phyfe, Take Two

Today’s blog entry in our “20 Reasons To Love Americana” series profiling standout Americana at the Winter Antiques Show expands outward to several “must-see” destinations in New York City.

Duncan Phyfe writing table and bookcase, 1820, courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

With the start of Americana Week events less than a week away, it seems as if we have received a press release via email every day relating to Duncan Phyfe. With a blockbuster exhibition on Phyfe on view through May 6 at the Met, many antiques dealers and galleries have jumped on the Duncan Phyfe bandwagon. Any why wouldn’t they? This talented and prolific American furniture maker is well suited to tie-ins with Americana Week, so let’s take a look at some of the places Phyfe will be popping up in New York City this month.

First and foremost is the Met exhibition, “Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York,” which features nearly 100 works from private and public collections throughout the United States. Highlights of the exhibition include some never-before-seen documented masterpieces and furniture descended directly in the Phyfe family, as well as the cabinetmaker’s own tool chest.

In the early 1800s, furniture from the workshop of New York City cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854) was in such demand that he was referred to as the “United States Rage.” This exhibition — the first retrospective on Phyfe in 90 years — reintroduces this artistic and influential master cabinetmaker to new fans.

The full chronological sweep of Phyfe’s distinguished career is featured, including examples of his best-known furniture based on the English Regency designs of Thomas Sheraton, work from the middle and later stages of his career when he adopted the richer “archaeological” antique style of the 1820s, and a very refined, plain Grecian style based on French Restauration prototypes.

The Metropolitan Museum is at 1000 Fifth Avenue. For more information, www.metmuseum.org or 212-535-7710.

A suitable companion exhibition is on view through February 17 in the galleries of Hirschl & Adler and is titled “The World of Duncan Phyfe: The Arts of New York, 1800–1847,” a multimedia exhibition of more than 100 pieces that together illustrate the strength and breadth of the artistry and craftsmanship in New York during the first half of the Nineteenth Century.

Attributed to Duncan Phyfe, recamier sofa with winged paw feet, about 1815-20; courtesy Hirschl & Adler

“‘The World of Duncan Phyfe’ at Hirschl & Adler Galleries is not an attempt to duplicate the show simultaneously opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” according to the gallerists. Instead, the gallery will present an addendum to the focus on Phyfe, by including not just works by Phyfe from each of his various periods, but also representative pieces by competing cabinetmakers in New York. The addition of furniture by craftsmen such as Charles-Honoré Lannuier, Michael Allison, Thomas Constantine, and J. and J. W. Meeks, as well as pieces that have thus far defied meaningful attribution, gives weight to the exhibition and tells the larger story of furniture making in this period and epitomizing the essence of “New York style.”

Also included is a variety of other decorative arts dating from Phyfe’s period of activity, including examples of silver, porcelain, metalwork and lighting made in New York, or in many cases produced abroad for an American clientele, together with a group of New York-centric paintings, works on paper and sculpture.

Duncan Phyfe chairs courtesy Joan Bogart

Exhibition highlights include a choice set of dining chairs made by Phyfe about 1810 for wealthy merchant Isaac Bell from New York. In sharp relief to their early, reeded aesthetic, largely derived from the English Regency, a long set of 16 dining chairs en gondole known to have been made by the Phyfe shop in 1835 for Stephen Van Rensselaer IV of Albany, are simple and bold, with their figured mahogany veneers as their only adornment. A group of figural furniture, featuring winged ladies, griffins, lions, harps and lyres ascribed to the workshop of Duncan Phyfe, helps to define the middle years of Phyfe’s long career.

Hirschl & Adler is in The Crown Building, 730 Fifth Avenue. For more information, www.hirschlandadler.com or 212-535-8810.

Antiques dealer Joan Bogart, Long Beach, N.Y., decided to capitalize on Phyfe-mania and will focus on classical American pieces in her booth at Stella Show Mgmt Co.’s January 20–22 Antiques At The Armory Show at the 26th Street Armory.

A centerpiece in Bogart’s booth will be a set of six Duncan Phyfe dining chairs, New York, circa 1830. The chairs are identical to a set made by Phyfe for his daughter Eliza and reportedly were displayed in public rooms in the New Jersey governor’s mansion until they were sold off.

For more information, www.joanbogart.com or 516-764-5712. For show information, www.stellashows.com or 973-808-5015.

Carswell Rush Berlin, New York City, is an exhibitor in the Winter Antiques Show January 19–29 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory as well as a contributor to the Met’s Phyfe exhibition. Furniture lent by the dealer to the museum dominates two of the exhibition’s three main galleries.

Duncan Phyfe eagle splat side chairs courtesy Carswell Rush Berlin

In its booth at the Winter show, the dealer will offer for sale important examples of Phyfe’s work, as well as very fine pieces of New York furniture that share many of the characteristics long associated with Phyfe; among these is a masterpiece scroll back Sheraton sofa, a pair of eagle-splat side chairs and a one-of-a-kind Sheraton pedestal base desk.

For dealer information, www.american-antiques.net or 212-721-0398 and during the show at 646-645-0404. For show information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 212-987-0446.

—Andrea Valluzzo


20 Reasons To Love Americana, Day 15

Today’s blog in our series showcasing standout examples of Americana that will be offered at the Winter Antiques Show January 19–29 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory looks at a an antiques with appeal to not just Americana collectors but those who seek out firefighting antiques.

Among the finest examples of paint-decorated leather fire buckets we’ve seen recently is this circa 1820 example offered by Jeffrey Tillou Antiques, Litchfield, Conn., that stands 12¾ inches tall and is decorated with a center panel featuring a sun and retaining much of its paint.

From Charlestown, Mass., the bucket is painted black with red collar and handle and is inscribed: “Marshall Johnson/1820/Ancient Fire Society/Charlestown.” The tanning process for leather in the 1800s was much different than today so leather items truly were waterproof as evidenced by several items from the Titanic that were raised in the last few years from the seabed that survived nearly pristine, having been encased in a leather case/bag.

An old label on the bucket reads “Fire bucket — one of several hung in the store of Hiram Johnson on the corner of Washington & Union Park Streets. /Given to F.P. Phipps by his daughter Mrs. Cora Russell/May 1923. Ex. Coll: Hiram Johnson Store, Boston, MA; acquired by Mrs. Cora Russell; given to her father, F.P. Phipps, 1923.”

In his book, A Century of Town Life: A History of Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1775–1887, James Hunnewell talks about Charlestown’s fire societies as pillars of the community. The Ancient Fire Society was the oldest and was founded in 1743 by homeowners to protect themselves from fire.

Marshall Johnson’s fire bucket No. 1 is probably one of a pair Johnson kept. Members of the Ancient Fire Society were “obliged to keep two leather buckets, two bags, and a bed-key and belt.” Johnson was probably the father of Marshall Johnson Jr., a well-known marine painter who was active in and around Boston.

Fire societies were replaced with government fire companies and artifacts like this leather bucket “like Marshall Johnson’s are wonderful documents of American’s long history of ingenuity and civic mindedness,” Tillou said.

For more information, www.tillouantiques.com or 860-567-9693. Make sure to visit the dealers’ booth at the Winter Antiques Show to see this and other fine Americana. For show information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 212-987-0446.

-Andrea Valluzzo

20 Reasons To Love Americana, Day 14

Today’s blog in our series showcasing standout examples of Americana that will be offered at the Winter Antiques Show January 19–29 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory looks at a piece of furniture that is most decidedly American but transcends several styles..

James & Nancy Glazer Antiques, Bailey Island, Maine, have been offering American antiques since 1969. Among the standouts they will feature at the show will be this relief carved and painted armchair, circa 1890–1910. The colorful and ornate chair originates out of Nauvoo, Ill., and stands 41 inches tall. In the Victorian tradition of “fantasy furniture” a creative use of snakes, birds, dragons and other mythological figures was a recurring theme.

“This exuberant use of ornately carved and painted elements is both imaginative and expertly executed. It is a celebration of color and form,” said James and Nancy Glazer.

For more information, www.glazerantiquesinventory.com or 207-833-6973. Make sure to visit the dealers’ booth at the Winter Antiques Show to see this and other fine antiques. For show information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 212-987-0446.

-Andrea Valluzzo

20 Reasons to Love Americana, Day 13

Today’s blog in our series showcasing standout examples of Americana that will be offered at the Winter Antiques Show January 19–29 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory looks at a rare maritime painting.

Hyland Granby Antiques, Hyannis Port, Mass., specializes in marine art and one of the fine paintings the dealer will feature in its booth at the show is this rare, signed  Joseph B. Smith (American, 1798-1876) oil on canvas, depicting the schooner J.W. Seaver.

Besides being exceptionally executed, the circa 1855 painting is noteworthy as it retains its original artist label with the original nails that attached the label to the stretcher. The label reads: J.B. Smith & Son MARINE ARTISTS, NO. 43 FULTON STREET, Near Fulton Ferry, DOCKS

The schooner at full sail is depicted with wonderful detailing. It is accurately portrayed and sailors and other figures are carefully positioned. Flying high is a blue and red stripe house flag with a Masonic design while the American flag flies off the gaff. Equal attention is given to the sea, in appealing shades of green and breaking waves around the ship.

Paintings signed or labeled by Joseph Smith are very rare and this painting, which retains its original pine frame, is in great condition. The work also bears a label for Vose Galleries.

Joseph B. Smith was one of the leading American maritime painters and most of his works were done in conjunction with his son, William. Only a handful of works were signed J.B. Smith; most bear the Smith & Son label. The two worked together for years in Brooklyn, N.Y.

For more information, www.hylandgranby.com  or 508-771-3070. Make sure to visit the dealers’ booth at the Winter Antiques Show to see this and other fine maritime-themed works. For show information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 212-987-0446.

-Andrea Valluzzo

Duncan Phyfe In NYC

“With the opening of the Duncan Phyfe exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past December, I thought it was high time I brought out some of my American classical pieces to be exhibited at the Antiques at the Armory Show.” So says Joan Bogart, a New York dealer in classical furniture, garden antiques, decorative arts, Victorian antiques and antique lighting about some chairs that have, in her words, “ a most interesting provenance.”

Bogart will be offering for sale at Stella Show Mgmt Co.’s January 20-22 26th Street Armory Show a set of six Duncan Phyfe dining chairs, New York, circa 1830. The chairs are identical to a set made by Phyfe for his daughter Eliza.

“In the 1980s, Page Talbott was commissioned to furnish the New Jersey governor’s mansion. ‘Drumthwacket,’ in American classical antiques,” recounts the dealer. “This set was purchased for the music room. There was other furniture purchased from a descendant of Eliza Vail, Phyfe’s daughter.

“As the story goes, the newly elected [Republican] Governor [Thomas] Kean’s wife disliked the furnishings in the public exhibition rooms and decided to sell them so she did not have to walk past them. The antiques community was shocked and outraged.”

Bogart says the Met exhibit has two similar chairs made by Phyfe and she is hoping that the exhibit will create new collectors of this important American cabinetmaker.

“Duncan Phyfe – Master Cabinetmaker in New York” currently on view until May 6 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the first retrospective on Phyfe in 90 years.

Bogart is one of 100 dealers exhibiting at Antiques at the Armory. Check out the chairs and other classical American antiques at www.americanclassical.net. Bogart shows Victorian furniture and accessories at www.joanbogart.com, while lighting is featured at  www.antiqueslighting.com.

For show information, www.stellashows.com or 973-808-5015. – W. A. Demers

20 Reasons To Love Americana, Day 12


Today’s blog in our series showcasing standout examples of Americana that will be offered at the Winter Antiques Show January 19–29 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory considers how the eagle is such an enduring symbol of Americana.

English Regency giltwood eagle, circa 1820

Specializing in Eighteenth–Nineteenth Century English furniture and decorative arts, Georgian Manor Antiques, Fairhaven, Mass., will bring this Regency carved giltwood eagle to the Winter show. The eagle is frequently seen on top of English Regency carved mirrors but the eagle is a popular symbol of Americana. Think of John Bellamy carved eagles, the Great Seal of the United States, and countless other interpretations of the eagle in Americana and folk art and in antiques in general.

Georgian Manor’s example is carved in a naturalistic style and a good size at 18 inches tall and 23½ inches wide. This piece dates to 1820, at the same time the Federal period was winding down in America and similar examples from this side of the pond could be placed side by side for interesting consideration. One speculates that though the eagle came to be the emblem of this country, the English appreciated the eagle for the same reasons Americans do.

There are differences however between the English and the American interpretations of the eagle. In American carvings, one usually sees the eagle holding symbolic objects in his talon, perhaps a banner a la Bellamy, or holding arrows as a sign of war or symbols of peace.

This Bellamy eagle fetched over $600,000 at Northeast Auctions in 2005.

Carver John Haley Bellamy (1836–1914) is known to have carved hundreds of eagles, and many more unsigned examples are attributed to him or his followers. He usually carved his eagles from four pieces of wood and to capitalize on the eagle’s powerful essence, he focused on its outstretched wigs, its strong neckline and sharp beak. A motif or message would be written on the banner held by the eagle like “Don’t Give Up the Ship” or “Remember the Maine.”

Authentic Bellamy eagles are highly desirable to collectors and most of us in the antiques trade well recall Northeast Auctions’ sale in August 2005 that boasted not one but two Bellamy’s. One plaque sold for $145,000 but a larger and more detailed Bellamy eagle, estimated to fetch $90/120,000, attained an incredible $600,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

For more information, www.georgianmanorantiques.com or 508-991-5675. Make sure to visit the dealers’ booth at the Winter Antiques Show to see this and other fine antiques. For show information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 212-987-0446.

— Andrea Valluzzo

Relics Of America’s Industrial Past

Well-worn factory furniture, bins, lighting, shelves and many other items that once furnished factories, schools, hospital, churches and farms take on second acts in contemporary design. Their charm, for collectors, is inherent in their simple design to a particular job — form followed function. And their survival points to the fact that they did their job well. Visitors to Antiques at the Armory, produced by Stella Show Mgmt Co, January 20-22, will gain a new appreciation for these relics of America’s industrial past, especially if they stop in and see Diana Douglas and Michael J. Ogle, co-owners of Los Angeles-based American Garage.

The couple will be showing this industrial foundry cart, circa 1930, featuring a three-board slat top, a cast iron frame, all resting on three cast iron wheels in original green painted surface..

“At American Garage, we are all about painted pieces and, of course, being in original surface.” says. Ogle. “This goes along with wood, metal or whatever. We have always believed that paint and /or color evokes a mood when used properly in designing any room.. Industrial that is stripped has a totally different feel to it, and in my estimation it is too cold and stark.”

Hand in hand with color and perhaps even more important is the form of the piece, he continues. “Whenever you walk around a show looking at hundreds of pieces and all of a sudden you say ‘Wow, look at that!!’ it is usually a piece that has great form, something in the initial design of the piece that makes it unusually pleasing to look at and sets it apart from everything else.”

Living in Los Angeles, Ogle and Douglas see industrial antiques being used in design work from modern homes to early turn of the century houses. “It all depends on the room setting and usage,” says Ogle. “Pieces such as the foundry cart have multiple uses as a lamp table next to a sofa, or as a stand alone piece with a magnificent piece of folk art displayed on it.”

You can put any of these examples back to work for you by visiting American Garage at the show or checking out their website at www.Americangarageantiques.com. For show information, www.stellashows.com or 973-808-5015.  — W.A. Demers

20 Reasons To Love Americana, Day 11

Today’s blog showcasing standout examples of Americana that will be offered at the Winter Antiques Show January 19–29 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory uncovers some of the history behind a historic sign.

Historic signs, trade signs in particular, are especially sought after by Americana collectors and this example offered by Suzanne Courcier and Robert Wilkins, Yarmouth Port, Mass., certainly fits the bill.

This double-sided sign was made to hang outside the Rising Sun Tavern, which opened in 1816 on the green in Hillsborough Center, N.H. Joseph Wilder Jr built his house in 1815 and opened a tavern here the following year. The sign is dated 1816 in block lettering on the side with the eagle and has wonderful graphics and retains much of its original paint as it has never been cleaned.

The 38-by-39-inch pine-construction sign also includes its original iron hangers and hung outside the tavern for years. Joseph Wilder died in September 1846 and his son Barrett Wilder died in 1864 and is believed to be the last Wilder to run the tavern. The building became a private residence at some time during the Nineteenth Century, and the sign remained in the attic of the two-story Colonial building for many years and at some point was removed.

“I used to move furniture around in that house,” says local pewtersmith Jon Gibson, saying he would help an elderly woman close down the house when she used it as a summer place years ago. An avid historian, he reports that the stretch just northeast of the village in the historic district was referred to as “Wilder’s Hollow” as several Wilder family members had homes there in the 1800s.

In an 1928 book, Legends of Center Folks: Their Homes and Institutions Now and Long Ago, author Lisabel Gay writes, “Joseph Wilder built this house in 1815. He kept a tavern called The Rising Sun.” She then describes the sign “still in the Cobb attic,” as the house came to be known later.

According to the book, Barrett Wilder and his sister Ann ran the tavern for a while after their father’s death, but Barrett headed South, roving from one area to another. Apparently, his strong Yankee views got him into trouble in the pre-Civil War times and may have cost him his life, as he was buried in Arkansas.

“Other than its history and the remarkable condition in which it has survived, it is the imagery, especially on the sunrise side, that spoke to us,” says Bob Wilkins.

For more information, call the dealers at 508-362-5420. Make sure to visit the dealers’ booth at the Winter Antiques Show to see this and other fine examples of Americana. For show information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 212-987-0446.

–Andrea Valluzzo

20 Reasons to Love Americana, Day 10

Our blog series showcasing standout examples of Americana that will be offered at the Winter Antiques Show January 19–29 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory takes a moment today to reflect on a style of English mirror that appeals to many Americana collectors.

While Hyde Park Antiques, New York City, specializes in Eighteenth–Nineteenth Century English furniture, the dealers have sold quite a few mirrors to Americana collectors.

This appealing example, a George II walnut and parcel gilt mirror, is similar in form to its American counterpart with a major difference being that American mirrors typically were constructed of mahogany while the English preferred walnut.

Most noteworthy about this mirror is its elegant proportions. The slightly elongated mirror stands 70½ inches tall and is 28½ inches wide. It is also surmounted with a swan’s neck pediment centered with an outstretched Ho-Ho bird, and most likely retains its original mirror plates. The mirror dates to 1745 and is in wonderful condition.

For more information, www.hydeparkantiques.com or 212-477-0033. Make sure to visit the dealer’s booth at the Winter Antiques Show to see this mirror and fine case pieces. For show information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 212-987-0446.

The Enduring Charm of Cast Iron

One of a pair of Nineteenth Century cast iron eagles retaining their original painted surfaces.

Perhaps more used to seeing cast iron sculptures in the form of the angels, pixies, gnomes and garden critters that populate suburban gardens, visitors to Antiques at the Armory, produced by Stella Show Mgmt Co, January 20-22, can discover some robust and rare antique examples in the booth of Judith & James Milne as part of the folk art coming to the 26th Street Armory.

Says dealer Judith Milne, “If one thinks about the majority of cast iron sculptures, one realizes that the pieces were made for places where they would be exposed to the weather.” Examples on display by the New York City couple include building architectural forms, such as a pair of Nineteenth Century eagles that retain their original painted surfaces, weathervanes, exemplified by a Nineteenth Century rooster in old paint, and items for the garden or entrance way, represented by a Nineteenth Century standing dog in old black paint.

“Since all these locations required a durable material, cast iron was an obvious but more expensive choice for the homeowner,” she adds. There were many foundries operating in the Northeast during the Nineteenth Century. The Milnes believe the dog was made in an iron foundry in Poultny, Vt., .while the rooster comes from the Rochester Ironworks foundry in New Hampshire. The eagles came off a building in Chicago. “All have come into the Twenty-First Century in good condition due to the iron,” says Judith.

Nineteenth Century standing dog in old black paint.

Check out these enduring — and endearing — examples of folk art at the Milnes’ booth and visit their website at http://www.milneinc.com. For show information, http://www.stellashows.com or 973-808-5015.

-W.A. Demers

Nineteenth Century cast iron rooster in old paint.