Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Marion Antique Auctions
MARION, MASS. – At first glance, Marion Antique Auctions’ November 26 “Ancient to Modern Sale II” may have seemed like just another auction, offering a few hundred lots – 539 to be exact – of estate furnishings, fine art, collectibles and jewelry. To be certain, it had all those things, but the hidden gem of the sale was nearly 125 lots of wicker furniture and objects, all from the collection of Mary Jean McLauglin. Of the 122 lots on offer, all but six crossed the block successfully, totaling $126,403 in a sale that had an aggregate total of $425,550 with a sell-through rate of more than 95 percent.
“Without exaggeration, this is probably the most important collection of wicker – in terms of rarity and scale – to ever come to auction; there probably will never be another one like it,” said Nick Taradash. He noted that her collection featured more than 800 pieces; Marion Antique Auctions will be selling the balance of the collection in small sections over the course of the next few sales.
McLaughlin’s wicker collecting began innocently enough in the early 1970s, when she decided to furnish the porch and a bedroom at her Guilford, Conn., home. A deep and abiding passion for all things bentwood and rattan developed and, over the course of the next 40 years, she assembled a sizeable wicker collection, focusing on the rarest forms and best pieces.
McLaughlin’s collection has been featured in books on wicker, including those by Richard Saunders, as well as Jeremy Adamson’s American Wicker Furniture, which accompanied the 1993 Renwick Museum exhibition Adamson curated.
Across the board, early surviving examples in complex forms were the most desirable of the sale. A circa 1870 extremely rare Victorian wicker corner shelf, from the early days of the Wakefield Rattan Co., earned the highest price of the day, going out at $10,560 and selling to a private collector in the Midwest who was bidding online. Taradash said that not only was the collector new to Marion but that they purchased nearly 70 lots in the sale.
Several rocking chairs had decorative patterns woven into the backs, all of which appealed to bidders. Also ringing in a price of $10,560 and also selling to the same Midwest private collector was one with a Liberty Bell back, attributed to the Wakefield Rattan Co, and possibly made for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. While the caned seat had been replaced, it retained an old natural finish with remnants of old green paint.
Of similar vintage and maker was a chair that had the date 1776 and an American flag woven into the back. Driving interest in the chair was its history in Adamson’s Renwick exhibition; it was also the cover lot for his book. It was purchased by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bidding on the phone, for $9,300. Among other pieces acquired by the MFA were a platform rocker with Japanese fan-designed back for $600, and a swan-form Victorian wicker stroller, for $1,020.
To round out high-selling seating forms, a Heywood Brothers Wakefield Co, circa 1898 wicker settee or tête-à-tête, with rolled back and arms and a pressed seat in a maple frame. It retained its original natural finish with green painted highlights and original factory label. An online bidder paid $2,688 for it.
Wicker tables made up about one-fifth of the sales and were led at $3,328 by an unusual and unattributed rectangular table with a top with milkweed and butterfly-designs under glass; it was followed at $2,880 by a similarly unattributed circa 1900 Empire-style oak and wicker circular tilt-top table.
Marion Antique Auctions’ next sale will include more wicker and will take place in late March or early April.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, www.marionantiqueauctions.com or 508-498-7136.