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By Laura Beach

NEW YORK CITY — It took barely an hour to disperse, but a rare cache of early American silver, most of it made in New York, Boston and Salem between 1670 and 1820, generated $1,719,880 including buyer’s premium at Christie’s on January 18.

Christie’s described the auction, marketed with its own catalog, as the first of its kind in nearly 15 years. It featured 11 lots consigned by the First Church in Salem, Mass., and 44 objects offered by the Darling Foundation, both not-for-profit organizations.

Christie’s American silver specialist Jeanne Sloane, who executed winning phone bids on several top lots, ascribed the success of the event to the freshness of the material. The First Church silver had never been for sale. The Darling silver was off the market for nearly half a century.

The active bidding was divided among collectors, institutions and dealers, said Sloane.

First Church In Salem

Much of it made for domestic use and later donated by wealthy parishioners, church silver has regularly come to auction in recent years, perhaps most memorably in 2001 when Sotheby’s sold silver from the Church of the Presidents in Quincy, Mass., for more than $3 million. Many preservationists decry these sales, but the consignors have argued that caring for their flocks takes precedence over caring for valuable antiques.

The Reverend Jeffrey Barz-Snell, 31st Pastor of the First Church in Salem, explained, “The church recently voted to sell a portion of its silver collections. While this was done at first with some sadness, the unanimous vote of the members reflects the energy and passion of the current church...The donations of currency, in the form of silver, from bygone generations will give the current church the opportunity to meet the needs of a growing Twenty-First Century religious community. Our sense of what is precious has changed. Our mission remains.”

Founded in Salem in 1692, the First Church is one of the oldest Protestant churches in the United States. Past members include John Endicott, Salem’s first governor.

Estimated at $150/250,000, a circa 1670 beaker by Jeremiah Dummer, with later Eighteenth Century handles, was the session’s top lot at $204,000, selling to a collector bidding by phone. Francis Skerry, a prosperous Salem maltster and investor, gave the beaker to First Church in 1684.

The cover lot, a John Coney of Boston tankard of circa 1690–1710, also went to the phone, for $168,000 ($150/300,000). It is engraved with the coat-of-arms and name of its donor, Elizabeth Clarke Cabott (1716–1785), who presented the tankard to the church in 1784.

At least one piece of silver was repatriated to Salem. Described by authority Patricia Kane as the “finest extant example of Salem silver,” a baluster-shaped flagon of 1769 by Salem silversmith John Andrew went to the Peabody Essex Museum for $102,000 ($80/120,000).

Peabody Essex Museum also acquired a pair of silver canns, $4,800, by Ebenezer Moulton of Newburyport, Mass., for North Church, later First Church, in 1805. A second pair of Moulton canns went to Newburyport collector Kem Widmer on behalf of the Historical Society of Old Newbury for $6,600. A third pair fetched $9,600.

A circa 1677–1682 caudle cup made by John Coney of Boston and presented to the First Church by Sarah Higginson in 1720 went to a private buyer bidding by phone for $108,000 ($80/120,000).

The 1772 gift of Benjamin Pickman, a 1759 tankard by Daniel Parker of Boston fetched $96,000 ($40/60,000), selling to an anonymous private collector.

Darling Foundation

Herbert F. Darling (1904–1968) of Buffalo, N.Y., began collecting in 1945 after acquiring a Georgian silver tea service. After deciding that there was “too much English silver around” he changed his collecting focus to early New York State silver. The Darling Foundation was formed in 1958. Its mission is educational.

Heading more than 40 lots of Darling silver was a Tobias Stoutenburgh teapot of 1730. It fetched $352,000 ($150/250,000) from a collector bidding by phone.

A circa 1765 covered sugar bowl by Samuel Johnson surpassed its estimate, selling to collector seated in the room for $45,600.

To another collector in the room, for $9,600, went a gold and enamel Myer Myers mourning ring of 1764. A Myer Myers brooch enclosing a miniature on ivory fetched $7,200.

From another consignor, a 1766 Paul Revere, Jr, silver cann engraved with the monogram of Elizabeth Waldron and Zachariah Johonnot of Boston sold to S.J. Shrubsole for $90,000 ($30/50,000). The Manhattan dealers also acquired a pair of circa 1730–50 New York beakers by Adrian Bancker for $72,000 ($50/80,000).

From the estate of Edith Altschul Graham came a 1765 John Edwards of Boston cann engraved with the arms and monogram of Joshua and Hannah Storer Green. The cann sold to Boston dealer Firestone and Parson for $45,600.

Prices realized include buyer’s premium. For information, 212-636-2000 or www.christies.com

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