at the Auction: The Tale of Two Sales

The Americana Collection of William K Dupont was successful at Sothebys and hit it out of the ballpark in Manheim, Pa too! A testament to a great collector.

A well rounded and judicious collector is a joy and a Godsend. They rarely take into account the cost of an item but covet an item for what it brings to the collection as a whole. And good thing, because intact a collection is more than the sum of its parts.

A wonderful example of this was the collection of William K Dupont at his home Rocky Hill. He specialized in the area around his home and was an expert on all things Delaware Valley – from ironwork to documents. He lived and breathed his collecting and was admired by the auctioneers and dealers that helped him amass this extraordinary grouping of everyday Pennsylvania living -two generations of Philip Bradleys, Joe Kindig, Skip Chalfant, Jim Kilvington, Vernon Gunnion, and a few others who were able to buy directly from local families or were victorious at local sales.

A short film done by Sotheby’s to promote their auction gives us a rare look inside.

Over the course of decades, William K. du Pont carefully amassed one of the greatest private collections of Americana ever assembled. The definition of a true connoisseur, Mr. du Pont was a devoted scholar who sought to preserve artifacts from early American history, from candlesticks and keyholes to elaborate cabinets and bookcases. In this video, Mr. du Pont’s friends, relatives and colleagues explore what made him and his collection so exemplary.

To see the importance that Sothebys places on the collection is praise enough but our story only gets better from here. As auction houses often do- they stagger a collection. Sotheby’s came in and took what they considered the “best” lots. The line-and-berry furniture and the Sulphur inlay all went to the New York showrooms. But Mr Dupont had collected everything that an 18thC house would use. And the more utilitarian and less glamorous objects were now available for a third, local auction. John Hess in Manheim got the nod and I suspect it was the ride of a lifetime for him. Nestled in the Pennsylvania countryside across the street from Roots Market and Amish small animal auctions- Mr Hess weekly runs through a plethora of country estate sales. Gates, baskets, dishes and the occasional buggy. So much that from time to time, a gem comes up and I imagine that Rocky Hill might well have had a few of these.

So after Sothebys has its sale on Jan 22. Mr Hess offered up the items deemed less likely to achieve success in New York City.

Looking over the auction I warned my husband and partner that the prices would be high because at one hour before the start, a pair of 18th C andirons that I wanted had not advanced past $15.00. I knew that noone was going to bid before the auction actually opened. And then it was as though we were all standing in the starting gate and bell sounded.

As items are lined up on your screen 5 to a row and they begin to close every few seconds- you begin to see the numbers. You quickly scan down the list to see the items that you have marked to “watch”. $20 dollars and hour ago is now 800- 825-840-900..The numbers were moving so fast you were mesmerized- which also means that you just missed items closing quickly at the top of the page.

In New York, things had been dignified and at a pace you could absorb the importance of the collection. This Delft plate estimated to sell for 1500 dollars- sold for 27,720 dollars plus the fee.

Back in Manheim, this group of household iron- a horse bit and some snow catchers- was at $1350 plus the fee when I had to go back to what we were actually bidding on.

Interestingly, many of the items featured in the Sotheby’s video did not go to New York and were sold locally here where they had been made and collected. But why the prices?

Because a great collection is just that. Mr Dupont who was knowledgeable and experienced had already put his stamp on the items.

Harold Sack, who began to deal with du Pont in the 1960s, told a story about du Pont in his 1986 memoir American Treasure Hunt. Sack noted du Pont’s “instinctive flair for antiques…strengthened…with a continuous and serious study of objects, photos and textbooks as well as conferences with leading dealers.” Bill du Pont proved the thoroughness of his self-education. After Sack sold him a New England high chest with fan-carved drawers in its upper and lower sections, du Pont called and told him he had determined that the upper fan-carved drawer was not original. Harold dispatched his brothers Albert and Robert to Delaware to confirm du Pont’s suspicions, and they said du Pont was right. As luck would have it, Robert Sack knew the cabinetmaker that did work for the New York dealer Sack had bought the chest from, confronted the craftsman, and threatened court action until he produced the original uncarved drawer, which Sack sent down to Delaware. (Cited from: antiquers.com)

In Manheim, the people who had restored the items, or had once owned them- had a chance to collect part of the collection. So Sale 3 of the collection had as much anticipation and excitement and energy as Sale 1.

For me, I had stopped bidding at other auctions in order to have the resources to buy as much as I could at this one. I was hoping that it would be a normal Amish country auction. In the end I had to let go of any hope of owning the 18th C Delft tile dog or the petit point picture fragment of a squirrel as there would have been nothing left. Instead I planted my feet and refused to lose on a carved wood walnut plaque of a dog named Tug.

We got lucky on a few items, had to fight for a few more that will need some restoration but will someday be proud additions to our home and store.

You will note that while there are some some extremely fine and rare antiques that we may not always see in the marketplace, the majority of items in these sales are things that with the proper gloves and wellies we might find on our own. The best way to learn outside of being an apprentice, is to study auction catalogs both for their accuracy and faults. Estimated prices vs realized prices. and so then: the hunt is on…..at the auction.

To see the collection at Sotheby’s and the results: https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2022/the-william-k-du-pont-collection-important-americana-from-rocky-hill

To see the last sale at John Hess and results: https://hessauctiongroup.hibid.com/catalog/343435/online-only-collectibles-of-william-k–du-pont/

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