Auction houses offer a bonanza for holiday shoppers
Looking for an alternative to the consumer crush of holiday shopping at the malls? A more civilized and rewarding alternative is just a raised hand away during a rush of December sales at local auction houses.
If every picture tells a story, a photo album among the goods during BHD Auctions’ current online sale, which ends Dec. 4, relates a tale of one family saga that spans nearly five decades, two continents and a divide created by the rise of Adolf Hitler.
The photo collection and scrapbook detail the travels and travails of the Muller family as the clan moved from Germany to the United States, where they became the Millers. Babies grew into children, who grew into adults. Letters passed between relatives in the New World and Old Country, some bearing stamps and postmarks issued by Hitler’s postal system. Young men from the family on both sides of the Atlantic joined the armed forces to serve their respective countries, with photos showing soldiers in U.S. military garb and Nazi uniforms. Obituaries shed light on a young Muller on the German side who died somewhere in Western Europe.
So many of the family’s most important moments were meticulously captured in pictures and words. And then it all stops, as though every Miller and Muller on the planet disappeared at once without explanation. Though a new owner will claim the collection, the end of the Miller and Muller story may long remain a mystery.
On a happier note, BHD’s web-only sale strikes a pleasant chord with a pair of Gibson guitars from the 1950s. Modeled after the granddaddy of all electric guitars, the Les Paul Jr. from Gibson set out to be a cheaper yet quality replica of its namesake. Manufactured in 1955, the sunburst guitar in the sale remains basically pristine nearly 60 years later, except for wear on the tuning keys.
Also from the Gibson family, an electric lap pedal steel guitar comes with its original amp and stands ready to produce some vintage twang. Both guitars will be sold with their original carrying cases.
Rich on small and varied collections, this sale highlights arrays of political buttons from the 1940s, state hunting and fishing licenses from the ’50s, several platoons worth of metal World War I soldiers, furniture, old hand tools, games, vintage Ring boxing magazine, hunting knives, toy cap pistols, fishing reels, dolls, collectible cameras and radios, artwork, transit tokens, postcards and Heinz 57 advertising materials from the 1950s.
Details: 725-816-0683 or bhdauctions.net
Dargate Auction Gallery
Offering a glimpse of the future, Dargate brings the present year to an end with a surprise one-day sale Dec. 13 at its McKees Rocks sanctuary. Discarding its traditional quarterly three-day marathon auction format, Dargate will switch to single sales every other month or so to present merchandise to buyers in a timelier manner.
After receiving a couple of hot consignments shortly after its most recent auction in mid-October, Dargate will sell the lifelong collection of a Ligonier consignor who amassed a large selection of primitive and early Western Pennsylvania furniture from the Soap Hollow community, near Johnstown. A nicely crafted armoire built by Jacob Knagy illustrates the Soap Hollow tradition of well-made painted furniture decorated with intricate stenciling.
With other goods from several estates closer to Pittsburgh, the sale includes collections of early regional salt-glazed crocks; a nearly 4-foot by 6-foot oil-on-canvas painting of Adam and Eve by French artist Emile Rene Menard that was featured in the 1925 Carnegie International; a Salvador Dali etching of St. George battling a dragon, signed in pencil; early Western Pennsylvania pressed, molded and blown glass; porcelain from Meissen and Staffordshire; older silver coins and paper currency; and two armchairs by George Nakashimi, minus their original braided-rope seats. Sale previews are from noon to 8 p.m. Dec. 11 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 12. The Dec. 13 auctions begins at 10 a.m. Sales and previews are at 326 Munson Ave., McKees Rocks.
Details: 412-771-8700 or dargate.com
Concept Art Gallery
Concept owner Sam Berkovitz admits that he’d like to hold more than six sales a year. The only obstacle, he says, is the nearly endless pursuit of the world-class art, antiques and other goods found in the Regent Square gallery’s auctions. That high degree of quality will be on display during the gallery’s Dec. 6 sale, which brings to market items from the likes of Sam Rosenberg, Andy Warhol and George Nakashima, to name a few.
The big categories, as usual, are art and furniture, with a good mix of jewelry starting off the sale. For gentlemen in the mood for a classic timepiece, a Rolex oyster perpetual-date submariner bracelet watch serves as a clock and handsome accessory. Shortly after the watch comes up for bid, attention will shift to silver of all sorts from top names such as Georg Jensen, Tiffany and Gorham.
In the furniture department, a pair of George Nakashima Conoid chairs stands out. Set to be sold separately, the armless chairs are made of American black walnut and hickory and covered with wool upholstery.
A true bright spot in the sale is a Muller Fres Lune-ville reverse-cut rose lamp with rosebud ironwork and matching shade. The patterns are painstakingly cut out from layers of colored glass on the 13-inch shade, which stands on an 18-inch-tall base. The Mullers set up shop in Luneville, France, and some members of the family worked with Emile Galle. The company produced cameo glass, chandeliers, vases and other items from mid-1890s to the early 1930s.
Several pieces of art glass deserve attention among a strong category. The standouts here are a Durand iridescent “King Tut” swirl art glass vase, with bands of orange and yellow based on patterns found in the Egyptian ruler’s tomb. Equally noteworthy is a Steuben blown-glass, green aurene vase decorated with a silvery-gold leaf and vine pattern.
Of course, artwork should create the biggest buzz
Dec. 6. A colorful oil-on-masonite painting of a Hill District street scene, “Gleam of Time (Logan Street),” freezes in time a bygone era from a neighborhood with one of the city’s richest immigrant histories.
Among the many Andy Warhol prints in the sale is a photolithographic poster from his American Indian series that portrays Native American activist Russell Means, who signed the print along with the artist.
Near the sale’s end is a collection of works by Alma Thomas, an African-American artist and secondary-school teacher from Washington, D.C. Best known in her later years for her brilliantly colored abstract creations, she also painted in a more naturalistic style earlier in her career. Both genres are featured in the sale. The Thomas works belonged to a former student from Pittsburgh who remained a lifelong friend of the artist.
Previews are at Concept Art Gallery from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and until 8 p.m. Thursdays or online. The sale will start at 10 a.m. Dec. 6. Previews and the sale will be at 1031 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square.
Details: 412-242-9200 or conceptgallery.com
Constantine & Pletcher
Loyal fans should consider C&P’s Dec. 13 auction at the Harmar House in Cheswick as last-minute holiday present — and a chance to pick up a special gift for a special someone or two in their lives.
Registering in at just around 200 lots, the relatively small sale includes big selections of model trains — a welcome arrival at this festive time of year — men’s and women’s jewelry, dollhouses, primitive and early furniture, slag-glass lamps and other lighting, sterling-silver flatware and serving pieces, vintage advertising, art glass from Loetz and Fenton, pottery by Roseville and McCoy and much more.
Previews start at 10 a.m. Dec. 13, with opening bids at noon at the Harmar House, 1321 Freeport Road, Cheswick.
Details: 724-275-7190 or constantinemayer.com
John Altdorfer is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.